May 1, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland (10) takes the ball to relieve relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Trading for a Closer won't fix all problems


Jim Leyland is pining for a closer. An everyday, guaranteed, this-is-my-guy-who-will-always-finish-games pitcher. He’s an Old School guy, and this is an Old School mentality. Rumors are currently swirling that the Tigers may be looking for an “experienced closer” to finish out games, with Jonathan Papelbon as the most popular name bandied about. You know, the dude with a $13 million price tag.

And don’t get me wrong – Papelbon’s great. His peripherals are outstanding, his results are stellar, and his resume speaks for itself. The caveat to acquiring someone of his caliber, or any “experienced closer” worth his salt, is that the trade won’t be cheap. To get a big name guy like Papelbon may require a prospect AND a position player, guys who are supposed to help the Tigers down the road once their roster begins to require an infusion of youth. This would be a move that screams “Immediate Gratification,” and I cannot support that.

One of the biggest reasons the Tigers need an “experienced closer” is Leyland craving one desperately, and this is to mask the fact that this guy, for whatever reason, can’t seem to manage a bullpen anymore. Early on, when Bruce Rondon looked like a young pitcher who’d never seen a Triple-A bathroom, a closer by committee approach was put into effect. Unfortunately, this exposed just how overwhelmed Leyland is and how rigidly he regards Old School templates (e.g. Lefty vs. Righty, don’t swing on a 3-0 count, only fast guys leadoff, etc.). He tries so hard to go with matchups instead of capitalizing on a hot hand that the results were often messy and bungled to the point where Dave Dombrowski had to sneak down to the local Big Boy and offer Jose Valverde a contract for the major league minimum.

Yesterday Leyland leaned on Benoit to close out the game after he finished off the eighth inning, and it was a revelation: he left a pitcher on a roll finish out a game. This could quite possibly be the beginning of a shift in bullpen responsibilities.

Hypothetically, if Valverde is mercifully forbidden to enter a game with a 3-runs-or-less lead, Rondon could be called up to handle the seventh inning, Smyly could tackle the eight, and Benoit could close. Granted, this would simply be shuffling guys around to assign roles based on those same ol’ Old School ideas, but at the same time it would be experimenting with guys, offering opportunities to utilize their full potential in high-leverage spots. This seems a much better idea than sending a prospect packing just to rent out an expensive closing option that could very easily not work out.

And plus, check out this list of Closers from the last ten World Series winners. In parenthesis are their ERA+’s that season, and how many years prior they closed for a team.

2003 – Braden Looper 115, 1 year
2004 – Keith Foulke 223, 3 years
2005 – Dustin Hermanson 221, 1 year
2006 – Jason Isringhausen 126, 6 years
2007 – Jonathan Papelbon 257, 1 year
2008 – Brad Lidge 224, 4 years
2009 – Mariano Rivera 262, 12 years
2010 – Brian Wilson 217, 2 years
2011 – Fernando Sales 163, 0 years
2012 – Sergio Romo 198, 0 years (didn’t even lead team in saves in regular season)

This is also taking into account that Looper, Hermanson, and Papelbon closed only several games the year before – they weren’t The Guy.

Basically, this is all to say that no, the Tigers don’t need an “experienced closer,” and they certainly don’t need to deal out young, improving players to find that person to win a World Series.

Tags: Closer Detroit Tigers