The Jose Valverde Debate: Is he a good fit if the market collapses?


Jose Valverde entered the market as one of the best closers available. With back-to-back seasons of forty plus saves, and another twenty plus save season last year, it made sense for the former Astros closer to test the waters on the market. When he declined the arbitration offer from Houston, the door opened for a new team to enter into the sweepstakes with a long term, double digit contract. With so many teams changed their late inning arms, it seemed that the market would go wild. Just like it did in 2008, when Brian Fuentes, Fransisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, and many other reliable closers hit the market. This time though, money isn’t flying like it used to. Smaller market teams are looking in house, instead of going cheaper on the market. Some teams have even filled their void by trading for the arm they believe can close ball games.

Jose Valverde is hoping for a closing role in 2009.

Jose Valverde is hoping for a closing role in 2009.

That 10-12 million dollars a year is dwindling away quickly. Jose Valverde’s agents are running out of options. The Orioles have brought in Mike Gonzalez to close out ball games. Pittsburgh can’t afford to get into another bad contract. The Nationals seem to have found their arm of choice in Matt Capps. Former Tiger Fernando Rodney could be possibly heading to Anaheim. After dealing Matt Lindstrom, it seems clear that the Marlins will stay right in house.

The Cubs could be an option if they lose out on the Matt Capps sweepstakes. But would Chicago really want to spend all that money in the back end of their bullpen? Sure, Carlos Marmol is a great setup reliever, but if Valverde wants to pitch for the Cubs he would ideally have to drop his price in half.

Considering he is a type a free agent, it just doesn’t seem to fit. Would the Cubs want to send two draft picks to their division rival? It seems very unlikely.

As reported by Brian McTagert of MLB.com, Valverde “remains on the open market waiting for the music to stop — and hoping there’s a chair with his name on it.”

At some point, Valverde is going to lower his demands. He will look for the one gig that gives him the best opportunity to succeed now and in the future. Once the Angels, Phillies, Marlins and Pirates sort out their closer issues, there seems to be just one closer role open in the Majors.

The question is if that team will throw a chair out in the middle of the music for the former stud closer to sit on. For the Detroit Tigers there is no obligation to do so.  Many in the organization, including Dave Dombrowski himself, believe that there are many closing options already in house.

But what if Valverde comes at a tremendously lower price then originally expected?

Without a doubt, acceptance of arbitration would of landed Valverde at least ten million dollars. Now he is just holding on to the fact that he is worth more than Billy Wagner, who will be closing for the Braves for one-year, seven million dollar deal.  So would it be worth it for the Tigers to drop seven and a half million for one year of Valverde’s services?

Probably not.

Though he could be a good trade piece down the stretch, it just doesn’t make sense for the Tigers long term. If the Tigers could seal him for two years, it would fit there model a bit more. The Tigers would have one of the best bullpens in the league if Joel Zumaya is effective and if Schlereth and Perry continue to develop. Into his second year of the contract, the Tigers could be a lot more competitive. He could be one of the key pieces in the always competitive A.L. Central. A one year contract for many reasons doesn’t make sense. Unless the Tigers feel they can afford and convince Valverde to sign an affordable extension in the off-season.

Breaking Down the Numbers:

Over his major league career, Jose Valverde has done an excellent job of controlling the ninth inning. In 194 save opportunities, the righty has blown only 27 of them. That is a clip of 86%.  Besides 2006 with Arizona (his worst season of his career), he has never had a season with an average against higher than .250.

The one thing that scares most is his lack of control. Throughout his career Valverde has posted a 3.61 bb/9. His walks and hits per inning pitched have been a pretty solid clip.  Since he struggled the most with control in 2006, the numbers suggest he has continued to improve on his control issues, without getting hit harder.

That’s not including last season. Valverde battled a calf injury all season long, after being hit by an Orlando Hudson line drive in late April.  His control was all over the place at times, and a lot of that probably had to do with discomfort. Projectors such as Bill James expect his bb/9, WHIP, and OBA to go up in 2010.

Final Thoughts:

As a fan, I am split on whether I would hope for the Tigers to pursue Valverde. Granted, he is a good closer that has proven his effectiveness in the past.  For me, the price would have to be just right.  If somehow they can get him for under seven million, then it is a bargain.

But is it a bargain worth spending? Seven million dollars could go a long way toward the future of this squad. Though I would rather spend the extra cash for Valverde than sign Kevin Gregg.  It will be interesting to see if the market collapses around Valverde and he becomes available.

The Tigers could find yet another key player in the late months before the start of spring training.


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