The Tigers closer Jose Valverde suffered an apparent wrist injury while warming up in the Detroit bullpen against St. Louis on Tuesday night. Never fear, Phil Coke came out and saved the game, as the Tigers won 6-3, but it begs the following question. What do the Tigers do if Jose Valverde is out for an extended period of time?
Now, I realize that most people are going to just want to push set-up man Joaquin Benoit to the closers role. It makes sense from a purely stuff standpoint, and from a dominance standpoint as well. Benoit has been a pretty dominant reliever the past 2+ seasons in a Tigers and Rays uniform. However, he has stated in the past that he isn’t comfortable in the closers’ role, and prefers to remain in the 8th inning. That to me is a big no right there.
Closers have to want that ball in the ninth inning. The job is almost as much about attitude as anything else, and putting a guy without the personality in the game isn’t a good idea. Could Benoit do it? Maybe. But there are other options.
Obviously Phil Coke appears to have the mentality. Coke is known for rushing out to the mound when he gets out of the pen, and he certainly has the stuff from the left side to do it as well. The only thing that bothers me about Coke is consistency, and well…closing games he might actually get too amped up, and his average command might get a little worse.
The leaves steady Eddie, Octavio Dotel. Dotel has 109 saves in his career to his credit, though he hasn’t been in that role in a full time capacity for a while. The reason? I’m not sure. He seems to still be getting quality results even without the dominating stuff. His implosion in that role earlier in the season may leave Tigers fans a little leery of being comfortable with that choice.
The one option that intrigues me more than all of them right now though is Brayan Villarreal. To me, I see an absence of Jose Valverde as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the Tigers to get a sneak peak at a potential closer for them in the 2013 season. If Valverde is out for a couple weeks, what would it hurt to let Villarreal try the role out for a few games? It doesn’t hurt that Villarreal has been dominating this season to the tune of 13.9 K/9 and an ERA of just 1.31 either. Heck, it wouldn’t be way out of bounds to say that Villarreal is a big reason why the bullpen has stabilized. Getting a look at what he can do in the role now could factor into the Tigers decision making process in the off-season. The Tigers need to think a little ahead here. If they do, they could potentially avoid dropping a bunch of money on Valverde or another closer later.
If Villarreal struggles, no big deal. You have Coke, Dotel, and Benoit. All three of those guys are capable, and it helps the Tigers think about what they need to do for next season.