Late this morning, Ken Rosenthal penned a piece foretelling of the possible end of the Jim Leyland era in Detroit. Lost in the piece, almost as a throw away line, Rosenthal mentioned a handful of other Tigers that would be on the way out as well.
"Right fielder Magglio Ordonez, 37, second baseman Carlos Guillen, 35, and closer Jose Valverde, 33, will be gone next season."
I don’t think there’s much debate about the first two. Ordonez, re-signed this winter to a one-year, $10 million deal, has been an unmitigated disaster thus far in 2011 and Guillen hasn’t seen the field yet while recovering from microfracture surgery. While Guillen could be back in time for the second half and both those guys could provide enough lift to carry the Tigers to the post season, no one here is suggesting the Tigers commit to anything beyond this season with them.
Valverde’s situation, on the other hand, is a bit more unclear than I think people are making it out to be.
The Tigers hold a $9 million team option for Valverde next year and it is expected that he will rank as a Type-A free agent. If the Tigers were to decline his option and then offer him arbitration, they would be entitled to two compensatory draft picks should Valverde decline the arbitration offer and sign elsewhere. MCB’s own Zac Snyder opined today over at Detroit Jock City that the Tigers absolutely should part ways with their closer after the season ends.
"Detractors will counter by saying that the Tigers have no candidate to replace Valverde as closer. I say, so what?The closer is perhaps the most over-valued position in all of sports. Think about, why should the most highly paid member of the bullpen be the man whose primary role is to pitch one inning with the lead?-snip-What is more valuable to the Tigers, a guy with a $9 million salary used in low leverage situations or first and supplemental round draft picks? I’ll take the picks."
While I understand the value of draft picks, as they have been assigned by multiple outlets, I also understand the value of winning games at the major league level while the core of the team (i.e. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander) are still in their primes.
Jose Valverde is performing at an elite level this season, just as he did for the first half of last year (right up until that 62-pitch silliness against Boston). Furthermore, the detractors are right when they note that the team has no obvious candidates to take over for Valverde. The next in line for the job would be Joaquin Benoit right now, who has been very good at times this year and very bad at other times. Still, at better than $5 million per year, he’s making “closer money” so I’m certain the Tigers would at least consider giving him the role. This was partly at least the idea behind signing him to that widely-panned three-year deal in the winter.
Beyond Benoit, there is a dearth of reliable, experienced relievers. Ryan Perry, long thought of as a future closer, has been so erratic that he’s toiling in Toledo right now. Al Alburquerque has been lights-out as a rookie middle reliever, but do you really want to turn a ninth inning lead over to a guy who walks six batters per nine innings?
I’m not suggesting the Tigers should absolutely exercise Valverde’s option, but I would hope that if they do, they have a plan to acquire a reasonable facsimile through free agency or trade. If they work the system properly, the Tigers can have the best of both worlds; they can allow Valverde to seek his multi-year deal on the market, collect the picks, and replace their closer with another, less expensive guy who won’t cost draft picks in return.
Heck, even if they lose Valverde and go out and sign another Type-A closer, they’ll still wind up with an extra draft pick. By gaining a first rounder and a sandwich pick, the Tigers come out a pick ahead if they lose their first-rounder to another team by signing a Type-A guy.
But I will say this much definitively; if the Tigers believe that Valverde is the best possible option to close games next year, they should simply pick that option and worry about collecting draft picks after the 2012 season.