Former Detroit Tiger Jose Valverde is on a long list of relief pitchers left unsigned with merely a week and a half until spring training reporting begins. Joining him in apparent purgatory are Brian Wilson, Francisco Rodriguez, and Brandon Lyon among others.
Some of those guys are coming off difficult seasons or injury, but it’s surprising no team has snatched them up on a minor league deal or at an otherwise bargain rate. With the season looming, their prices may be lowering every day.
Detroit won’t bring Valverde back, but it’s worth mentioning that I can’t find a single team linked to the man who not long ago saved 51 consecutive games. Super-agent Scott Boras said he expected interest in Valverde to pick up after Rafael Soriano signed, but so far: crickets. It’s amazing what a 30.38 playoff ERA can do to your market value.
Wilson lost all but two appearances last season to Tommy John surgery. The closer was effective right up until his injury, but has lost his job with the San Francisco Giants to Sergio Romo. Unlike Valverde, he has generated interest, apparently having a list of five potential suitors. His value has dropped enough that the New York Mets hope to sign him to a minor league deal. Dave Dombrowski won’t offer Wilson a closing role, but if that condition drops, he fits as a low-cost, high-reward guy in case Bruce Rondon fails at Detroit’s back end.
An especially intriguing unsigned reliever is Francisco Rodriguez, or K-Rod. Talk has been quieter, if possible, on him than on Valverde this offseason. K-Rod said in October he would “love to come back” to the Milwaukee Brewers, but it appears they’re ready to move on. No other team looks ready to deem him closer. He had an off year in 2012, but he’s averaged 72 innings pitched per year for ten years as a quality late-innings reliever in both leagues. Earlier today, Eno Sarris of FanGraphs conjectured that the Tigers would end up with him. I wouldn’t mind. That said, there’s currently talk that Rondon, currently penciled as Detroit closer, could unseat K-Rod as closer for the Venezuelan World Baseball Classic team.
One reliever who remains available despite showing strongly last season is Brandon Lyon. The Toronto Blue Jays have a full bullpen, and the only other team connected to him this winter has been the Giants. As of two weeks ago, those discussions were “deep,” but the trigger has yet to be pulled. San Francisco negotiating implies Lyon is probably not set on closing, which may make him a fit for the Tigers, who won’t promise him that job but could use insurance. I would think Lyon might get a contract comparable to that of the younger Matt Capps, who just signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians.
As I wrote months ago, I’m not convinced Rondon is ready to close. If the market continues to cool, the Tigers should re-enter the bidding for relief pitching.