The Papa Grande era in Detroit is over. And that is probably for the best. Despite his 110 saves from 2010 to 2011 and despite being perfect in 2011, Valverde saw a serious reduction of his ability to fool or blow away major league hitters in 2012, particularly late in the season. And the eccentric closer was completely pounded during the last two post seasons. So now Valverde is gone and the Tigers need to find another closer. They were linked to Soriano most of the off season. That did not happen. Other closers came and went off the board. Some raised eyebrows at the unusual restraint of deal-making. But the truth is that the Tigers have plenty of candidates for the closer position. Let's take a quick look.
The most quoted name linked this winter to the closer's role has been Bruce Rondon. Rondon is yet another Venezuelan and is going to be 22 years old. The Tigers have stated publicly that they are confident that Rondon can step into the role. Rondon did save 29 games for Tigers' minor league affiliates last season and has big time swing and miss ability. But there are two things that make this move a bit scary.
First, Rondon has a rather alarming walk rate in the minors. This walk rate of 5.1 has elevated his overall minor league WHIP to 1.240. The second problem is that he has never pitched at the big league level and only had a small sample size of outings at the Triple-A level. Others can point to Kimbrel of the Braves and say that it can be done. After all, Kimbrel had a high walk rate in the minors. Where the comparison fails, though, is that Kimbrel had a much higher minor league strikeout rate and had a much lower WHIP.
Rondon seems like either wishful thinking or a long shot at best.
But that is okay because the Tigers have two other candidates. The first is Phil Coke. I have watched Coke for many years now and had never seen him turn into such beast mode as he did against the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS. Such a display, not only of stuff, but of emotion and competitiveness leads me to believe that he has the mentality for the role. The Tigers would lose his situation status for lefties, but they still have Duane Below.
Al Alburquerque is another possible closer. He certainly has the "stuff" to throw up there. Alburquerque missed a huge chunk of 2012 due to injury but was effective in the few innings he had. His strikeout rates are ridiculous and are in the Kimbrel-type territory. Alburquerque also walks a lot of batters but get a load of this stat: In 56.2 major league innings, Alburquerque has given up 27 hits. Woof. The Tigers wouldn't make a wrong turn at Alburquerque.
Then there is Joaquin Benoit, a guy the Rays turned around in 2010 when they recreated him as a strike-throwing artist. I like a closer that is not going to create his own drama with walks. And since those amazing Rays got a hold of him, his walk rate the last three seasons has been terrific. Benoit has periods of inconsistency, But there is no doubt here that he could do the job.
One last candidate is Brayan Villarreal, yet another Venezuelan, with big stuff and control problems. Villarreal would need to lower his walk rate as his strikeout rate is not quite as impressive as Alburquerque.
The bottom line here is that the Tigers can easily work this out and give the ninth inning to one guy and get the game finished in the win column. I have serious doubts they will really give the role to Rondon, but I have been wrong before. Alburquerque intrigues me the most with his strikeout ability with Coke being a close second based on what I saw in the post season. Either way, Valverde won't be missed and the ninth inning will be a lot quicker in Detroit this season.