July 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; World pitcher Bruce Rondon (44) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Tigers Should Look to Upgrade Bullpen


The Detroit Tigers have already become a much cleaner team in the weeks since their season ended. They’ve parted ways with Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, and Jose Valverde. They’ve added Torii Hunter and have a healthy Victor Martinez to look forward to. Even if they don’t re-sign Anibal Sanchez, their rotation features a brilliant front three and a solid back two. One area they haven’t addressed, though, besides by subtraction, is their bullpen.

Flamethrower Bruce Rondon, 22 in December, looks poised to join their complement of relievers, and he could find himself closing games right away. “This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer,” General Manager Dave Dombrowski said at a post-season media session. “Normally you’re not going to thrust that in a young guy’s hands and say automatically, ‘That’s your job,’ but it would not surprise me if he earned that job.

I don’t mind them giving him a chance, but it is somewhat risky to slot Rondon in at closer, especially if he’s the only arm Detroit adds.

Here’s how I see the Tigers’ bullpen today:

RHP        Bruce Rondon (Closer)
RHP        Joaquin Benoit (Set-up)
RHP        Octavio Dotel (7th)
LHP        Phil Coke (7th/LH sit.)
RHP        Al Alburquerque (Mid)
RHP        Brayan Villarreal (Mid)
LHP        Duane Below (Long)
 

The Tigers shouldn’t go shopping for saves this offseason. The statistic is overvalued and often teams pay well over true market value to do well in it. Relievers are notoriously volatile, though, and Detroit’s bullpen looks a bit scarier than most.

Rondon has pitches less than 30 innings above the Single-A level, with only eight of those at Triple-A. Benoit is 35 and has seen his ERA and FIP rise in both 2011 and 2012. Dotel turns 40 on Sunday. Coke played hero in the playoffs, but his 4.32 ERA over the past two seasons hadn’t earned him much love from fans. Alburquerque, given his rough delivery, will always be injury-prone. Villarreal has huge potential but can be mercurial at times. Below has fulfilled his role adequately, and at times admirably, but after starting the season with a streak of 14 shutout innings, he posted a 5.57 ERA the rest of the way.

If one man falters at the hands of injury or inconsistency, Luis Marte and Daniel Schlereth are among the few options waiting in the wings.

The Tigers should stay away from big-name, expensive closer types, but they should add some reliable depth to their bullpen before the season starts. Currently, MLB Trade Rumors lists 55 free agent relievers.

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