July 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; World pitcher Bruce Rondon (44) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
In an ESPN MLB Rumors ($) update a couple of days ago – an update that again mentioned that the Tigers could trade Rick Porcello – it was mentioned that the Detroit Tigers would probably be looking for bullpen help in the return package of any trade.
"The Tigers still have a need in their bullpen, particularly at the back end, so if Porcello is going to be traded, it would make sense for GM Dave Dombrowski to target a high-leverage reliever who could close, in case Bruce Rondon — a rookie with shaky control and no experience in the majors — isn’t able to handle the role."
We’ve heard all offseason that the Tigers have checked in on the high-leverage reliever market – particularly left-handed relievers – but is this really a need for the team right now? Teams are constantly looking to upgrade their team, and bullpen is probably one of the two most upgradeable spots right now (along with left field), but relief (even high-leverage relief) doesn’t appear to be a great need at the moment.
Sure, they don’t have the sort of “proven” closer that teams often seek, but they appear to be strongly committed to giving prospect Bruce Rondon a shot at the closers job and they have several options already on the roster should he fail to seize the role. Included in that group are two or three set-up men that are as proven in their roles as any high-leverage reliever that would be available on the market.
Here’s how the bullpen shakes out now, if everything went according to plan:
Bruce Rondon would close, Joaquin Benoit would handle the eighth inning, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke would play the matchups in the seventh inning, Brayan Villarreal would get the sixth inning, and Al Alburquerque would be available when a strikeout is needed. I don’t necessarily love the inning-role strategy for bullpen usage, but it’s what managers do (especially Jim Leyland). This leaves one final spot for a second lefty or a long man (probably Darin Downs or Drew Smyly, if they decide not to keep him stretched out in the minors). If Rondon is able to do the job then they certainly don’t have need for another late-inning arm.
That’s a big if, of course. Rondon started last season in High-A ball and would be making the jump from Double-A straight to the big leagues. There’s some uncertainty there, but if he pans out there will definitely not be any need for an expensively gotten pitcher (whether it be by millions or by trading a valuable commodity like a reliable fifth starter). And even if he (Rondon) doesn’t pan out this season, the Tigers could get by with what they have.
Joaquin Benoit had his struggles with the home run ball late in the year last season, but he’s been arguably the Tigers’ best reliever the last two years and could do the job if asked, Octavio Dotel has more than 100 career saves, so he’s no stranger to the late innings, and Al Alburquerque, with his career 13.5 K/9 rate, 1.59 ERA, and 2.11 FIP could be almost as interesting of an option as Rondon. They would probably have enough arms to patch something together, or at least long enough to see what they really have and what they need; a deadline deal could always be made.
It’s never a problem to have too many bullpen arms to throw at opponents, but the Tigers don’t need another one (and perhaps don’t even have much space for one) until they see what Rondon can or can’t do in the major leagues. The Tigers front office has been adamant that they’re not looking to bring in Rafael Soriano, and they stated they weren’t interested in Joel Hanrahan (before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox), so perhaps the front office agrees as well.