We all know it’s not about how you start, but it’s how you finish that defines who you are. If that’s the case, the Detroit Tigers are like an unsolved mystery with having Jose Valverde as their closer.
In 12 of the opportunities manager Jim Leyland has called on Valverde to close the game, he has completed the job at hand only 9 of the times. Valverde already has three blown saves , which means (for you non-mathematicians), that Valverde will lose the game for the Tigers every fourth time he enters the game to (oh by the way) do his JOB. After Wednesdays loss to the Kansas City Royals, where Valverde gave up a game tying two-run home run in the 9th inning, and Phil Coke got the loss in the 10th, the Tigers have lost four games in which they led heading into the 9th inning. That is an unacceptable stat especially for a team that has world-series-or-bust expectations.
There is an easy way managers could look at their closer situation; if your closer has an ERA which is close to a GPA that you would be happy for your son or daughter having, then it’s time to look into acquiring someone new do the job. Jose Valverde’s ERA is at 4.15, which if I had a kid and he/she had that GPA, I’ll be making sure part of my job earnings go towards a college savings account for an Ivy league school.
Seriously though, the Tigers have too much on the line to have Valverde disrupt to what seems to be a special season for Detroit. So I think Jim Leyland and General Manager Dave Dombrowski have three options when dealing with their closer situation.
Here they are:
1. Sign a free agent closer- The only person that comes to my mind when I think of free agent closers is former San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson. In 2010, Wilson led the National League with 48 saves and has a 1.81 ERA. During the playoffs, he had saves in the clinching games of the NL Division Series, the NL Championship Series, and the World Series. In 2011, Wilson was among the top three in saves in the NL until August, when he suffered an elbow injury. He had 36 saves at the time. He missed most of the 2012 season after undergoing a second Tommy John surgery in April. Two things that worry me about signing a guy like Wilson are: 1. We don’t know how he’ll perform coming back from a serious injury Like a Tommy John, and 2. He is also asking for a big contract in terms of money, something the Tigers might not have to offer. But if the Tigers look to make it back to the World Series, an experienced closer like Wilson would be a perfect fit for the team.
2. Trading for a Closer- Two targets the Tigers organization could be looking at acquiring before the trade deadline are Tom Wilhelmsen from the Seattle Mariners or Huston Street from the San Diego Padres. The Tigers could try to go back to the place where they stole Doug Fister in the 2011 trade deadline and get Wilhelmsen from the Mariners. Wilhelmsen is still cheap though in terms of his contract with the Mariners, so he’d be expensive to acquire, and he hasn’t exactly been lights-out, blowing his fourth save on Wednesday. But a change in scenery can be the difference for Wilhelmsen to succeed as a closer. Just ask Fister how much that has made a difference for him. Street on the other hand is a proven closer. He finished the 2012 season with 23 saves in 24 chances and a 1.85 ERA in 39 innings pitched, striking out 47 against 11 walks. His consistency is something the Tigers have lacked at the closer position for as long as I can remember. And I know Street wouldn’t mind pitching for a World Series contender either. The Tigers just might have to give up one of their staring pitchers, or a top prospect to land Street.
3. Closing with a Smyly– Detroit Tigers relief pitcher (starting pitcher by trade) Drew Smyly has proven he can be their best option as closer this season. Smyly has shown he can crank up his fastball up to 94-95 mph in relief so far. Smyly also has a 2.11 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 38 innings. He’s crushed left-handers, holding them to a .127 average and no extra-base hits. I understand he might not have the history as being a everyday closer, but just know that the past two World Series winners entered the playoffs with relievers who had become their team’s closer during the season: Jason Motte with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and Sergio Romo for the San Francisco Giants last year. And besides, the Tigers organization won’t lose money or a future prospect with having a guy like Smyly as their closer. So it’s almost a win-win situation for the team. They don’t have much to lose either with trying a guy like Smyly at the closer position, especially if they think Mr. “Jo-hay, where did the ball go” Valverde, can do the job.