As Detroit Tigers management told us Thursday morning, Bruce Rondon will start the season as the closer at Triple-A Toledo. Now that the Tigers have temporarily closed the major-league door on the rookie, we can, of course, move on to discussing even wilder suspects.
Yes, talk of Jose Valverde has enflamed once again. In the Dominican Republic over recent days, the maligned reliever has thrown bullpen sessions for scouts from multiple unspecified teams, agent Scott Boras said. MLB.com beat writer Jason Beck wrote up the story, and supplemented it with a speculative piece on his blog.
Beck questioned whether the Tigers, after an off-season spent at a great distance, might be interested in reuniting with the man who saved 110 games for them over three years. He conceded that such a rapprochement looks unlikely, but it’s an interesting discussion anyway.
Detroit is currently looking at using any number of their seven chosen relievers to help shut down games in the ninth inning. Manager Jim Leyland, though, has made his preference to have a designated closer known. He reiterated that inclination to reporters at the Winter Meetings in December, citing the second-guessing that will inevitably follow his selecting a pitcher to perform ninth-inning duties every night.
Leyland said at the same press conference that he would indeed turn to a closer-by-committee system if he found out come spring that Rondon couldn’t yet “make an adjustment if he lets one get away.” One could suggest, though, that if he weren’t totally attached to the idea of an appointed closer, awarding the job to a 22-year-old with less than 30 innings pitched above the Single-A level might never have been an option.
As Beck pointed out, the Tigers have been linked to various relievers in trade rumors, Huston Street, Luke Gregerson, Carlos Marmol, and Andrew Bailey among them. However, Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News last week he has not made a trade proposal, at least not one involving Rick Porcello. Thursday morning, he said Rondon’s failure to make team has not changed their approach to the trade market.
There were also rumors of Leyland’s interest in a Valverde reunion early in March, initiated by a tweet from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Two days later, the manager shot down those rumors, stating that Tigers officials had not discussed re-signing Valverde and such a deal was not in the picture. Further, he told the CBS Sports Radio Network, “I don’t think there’s any chance that Jose Valverde is coming back to the Tigers.”
He also mentioned the probability he would receive “a multi-year contract at big dollars” as one of the primary reasons for staying away. At this point, though, with Valverde one of few notable unsigned players, such a large deal looks highly unlikely. Boras said today that his client is open to a one-year contract.
Besides the way he left the team, one factor that might disinterest the Tigers would be Valverde’s probable need to pitch in extended Spring Training or the minor leagues before joining their major league roster. Further, they may believe Rondon will be ready for a call-up before or near the All-Star break; a couple months of Valverde might not be worth the handwringing such a signing would elicit from fans.
All things considered, though their lack of a closer and his lack of a job give obvious reason for speculation, I don’t see the Tigers and Valverde ever getting back together—like, ever.