According to John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Tigers’ current “Plan A” is for Bruce Rondon to serve as the primary setup man to new closer Joe Nathan.
The Tigers would like to see Rondon become the eighth-inning set-up man, not the closer. They’ve signed a closer who is about as established as any closer can be: Joe Nathan, who had 43 saves last season and has 341 in his career.
Unlike last spring, the Tigers now have a veteran pitcher as Plan B if Rondon can’t win the job they hope he will win. Although the word “insurance” wasn’t used by the club when Joba Chamberlain signed the other day, the right-hander provides an experienced eighth-inning alternative if Rondon doesn’t win the job.
Lowe makes it sound like there’s still a caveat: Rondon has to “win the job”, but the Tigers don’t have many alternatives. Joba Chamberlain could very well do the job, but he could also be something of a disaster if he repeats the 4.93 ERA, 5.64 FIP season he had a year ago. Al Alburquerque is in a similar boat. He could be an excellent eighth inning setup man, but he doesn’t have the command to be able to consistently avoid trouble. The next guy in line is likely Phil Coke, and no one wants to see it come to that.
As Matt Pelc wrote last week, experience in the eighth inning would be incredibly valuable for Rondon if he is to take over as the closer once Nathan’s contract expires. We all best hope Rondon seizes the opportunity, because right now he’s the closest thing the Tigers have to a reliable arm in front of Nathan. The rookie seemed to get better (and more comfortable) as the months went on, but all we’ve really seen from Rondon so far is a half season of solid (if unspectacular) performance, and he wasn’t even healthy enough to pitch in the playoffs at the end of it.
Really, it seems the Tigers have Joe Nathan and then a bullpen full of lottery tickets. Four or five guys could pay off huge if they’re locked in next season, but it’s just as easy to envision a scenario in which the Tigers need to make a couple of ‘panic’ moves at the deadline to keep the bullpen from completely sinking. It’s probably a less reliable bullpen than the one the Tigers entered 2013 with.