MLB Trade Rumors recently reported that Jose Valverde has changed agencies in anticipation of this upcoming off-season. This makes one think that Valverde might be preparing to re-enter Free Agency after two years with the Tigers. However, the Tigers hold a team option for the 2012 season that would pay him $9 Million. This option should be exercised without hesitation. While the Tigers could turn down his option and offer him arbitration (which would probably be around that $9 Mill figure one would think). If Valverde accepts, no harm, no foul. If Valverde declines, they lose their best reliever but gain a first round draft pick (most likely) and a 1st round supplemental pick.
The Tigers NEED Papa Grande in 2012 though because the bullpen will be relied upon just as much next year as it has been this year.
It is common knowledge that the Tigers bullpen is a rather like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (I guess Mr. Hyde would be the bullpen in save situations…maybe I am mixing up this analogy, anyway…). Up to this point in the season (stats as of 8/18/11), the pen has accounted for almost 31% of the innings pitched (337 of 1088). To relate this more to Valverde, almost 35% of THOSE innings (or 11% of the overall innings) have been in save situations (which includes actual saves), the situations the Tigers pen is most successful in. So, to state the obvious, Valverde is integral to the most successful part of the Tigers pen. Removing him and putting a different arm into that role most likely means a down grade. The most likely scenario involves moving Joaquin Benoit into the Closer role and moving Phil Coke and/or Al Alburquerque into the setup role. All of these guys have been good, but each has been a little worse this year than the guy they would be replacing. So Benoit is less than Valverde, and Coke/ABQ are less than Benoit, and whomever replaces those two would have performed worse than them this year. Now, these are all assumptions, but you understand where I am going. By removing Valverde from the 2012 pen, it causes a chain reactions that has the potential to weaken the entire bullpen, not just the Closer role.
As I stated earlier, the bullpen will be relied upon just as much next year (although it is beyond me to predict the non-save vs. save situation opportunity breakdown). The assumption right now is that rotation will consist of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and Jacob Turner. If you look at this year, Verlander has been pitching into the 7th an 8th inning consistently with 4 complete games already. Scherzer has been in the 6-7 IP range, followed by Porcello. Fister, while with Seattle, had been similar to Verlander, throwing 3 CGs. While there may be some variance these numbers will probably be pretty close next year too. The wildcard is Jacob Turner, who will most likely be on a short leash in terms of pitch counts/innings limits. Given those factors, and his rookieness (if that wasn’t a word, it is now), I am projecting 5 IP over the season. So, out of 45 total innings of the whole rotation, the Starters could account for 32 IP. This leaves, on average, 13 innings per round – or 28%. While this is a decrease of 35 from this year’s current totals, it is also assuming that things go right and the Tigers remain lucky on injuries. So, we could see a sway either way – injuries and under-performance pushes the Tigers up past 30%, Porcello and Scherzer finding consistency along Turner being let loose could bring it down to 25%.
The point of all this is stating the rather obvious – the Tigers need to bring back Jose Valverde next year because his performance is at such a level that by removing him from the picture, the entire bullpen dynamic changes. With a large portion of the season’s innings handled by the pen, the Tigers need to make sure it remains at least as good as right now…with the hope that the younger players can actually improve upon what has been done this year. Eventually Valverde’s talent will decrease and the Tigers will have someone within the system ready to take on that Closer role. I don’t see that being the case in 2012 though and as such, the $9 Million the Tigers would need to pay him are well worth it for bullpen stability in a year the Tigers should once again be contenders.