Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Around the division: Detroit Tigers

I am perversely fascinated by the thrashing-about of the Detroit Tigers when it comes to the back end of its bullpen.

In most regards, the Tigers look like the best team in the American League. They have a potent middle of the lineup, a good outfield defense, the best rotation in the league. For flaws — and all teams have flaws — there's this: the left side of the infield has no range, and manager Jim Leyland is excessively indecisive with his closer options.

How indecisive? On Tuesday the Tigers brought back Jose Valverde and anointed him closer. This is the same Valverde who spent 2012 skimming the edge of disaster and then went over the edge in the postseason, the same Valverde the Tigers refused to re-sign during the offseason.

The Tigers went into training camp hoping that prospect Bruce Rondon would seize the job. He didn't. They shipped Rondon to Triple A to start the season and announced that they would go with a "closer by committee." Which they didn't really do. First Leyland tried for force Phil Coke into the role, then Joaquin Benoit.

And they signed Valverde, unwanted by anybody else in baseball, to a minor-league contract.

And now Valverde's back — and Rondon has been called up as well.

Saying that Valverde has the closers job doesn't carry much weight right now. Leyland's previous statements of intent were either insincere or insecure. The Jose Valverde we last saw didn't deserve this opportunity, and his leash figures to be very short indeed.

A short leash is deserved in his case. The problem is, Leyland doesn't really trust anybody in his bullpen with the ninth inning. Not Coke, not Benoit, not Rondon, not Al Alburquerque ... and, odds are, soon not Valverde either.

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