The Detroit Tigers have designated veteran relief pitcher Jose Valverde for assignment, once again making everyone wonder if they have anyone in mind for their closer's spot.
Valverde, who struggled in the 2012 postseason, was brought back to the Tigers two months ago after failing to generate interest from other teams in free agency. Since rejoining Detroit, he failed to regain his form, converting just nine of 12 save opportunities and posting a 5.59 ERA.
The Tigers have 10 days to make a move with Valverde, and GM Dave Dombrowski indicated he hopes the veteran will accept an assignment to Triple-A.
"We have asked him if he would go to Triple-A for us, and try to work
with him there, try to get him straightened out," Dombrowski said. "He
did not give us an answer on that. It really doesn't make a difference
at this point, since we would still have to get waivers at some time. He
was open-minded to it. He didn't say no to it, but he needed some
It's possible Valverde will end up in Triple-A, just because I can't see any other team wanting him. The Tigers, however, are built to win now and can't screw around hoping Valverde will get his act together.
For now, Detroit says it will use Joaquin Benoit in the closer's role. Benoit has four saves this season, to go along with a 1.80 ERA. The long-time setup man has only 17 career saves, so it's unlikely the Tigers look at him as their solution for the rest of the season. Plus, even if Benoit fills the ninth-inning void for Detroit, they still need someone to replace him in the eighth inning.
Could that someone be White Sox right-hander Jesse Crain? The veteran setup man is the best relief pitcher in baseball right now. He earned the win in Saturday's 3-2 Sox victory over Kansas City. It was his 29th consecutive scoreless appearance, a franchise record. Crain's ERA is down to 0.53, and he has 44 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. His contract is up at the end of the season, and with the Sox sitting 10 games below .500, Crain is likely on the trading block.
He'd be a perfect fit for the Tigers, if they are willing to make a trade within their own division. The Sox need not have any reservations about moving Crain to an AL Central rival. If Crain comes back to haunt them in the second half of this season as a member of the Tigers, so what? The Sox aren't going anywhere anyway. The question is whether Detroit would be willing to give up a useful young player, like outfielder Avisail Garcia, or a young pitcher like Drew Smyly or Kaneland High School product Casey Crosby. Trading any of those guys to a division rival could come back to bite the Tigers over the next five years. But, if you're Dombrowski and you're looking to win right now, wouldn't you take the risk?
Another option that's out there for Detroit: Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon. The veteran closed out a World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He's a proven postseason performer. But, he is making some bucks -- a guaranteed $13 million this year, next year and in 2015 as well. That's a big financial commitment, but the Tigers seem to have deep pockets -- a payroll soaring up near $150 million for this season.
Right now, Detroit has more than enough to win the lousy AL Central. The question is whether they have enough to get back to the World Series and win it. My answer is no, unless they fix that bullpen. Crain and Papelbon would be excellent solutions to their problem, if they are willing to take on even more payroll AND trade with a division foe.