Help may not be on the immediate horizon for the Tigers' ninth-inning issues with closer Jose Valverde. At least that's what Tigers CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski told media today in Midland, as reported by Hugh Bernrueter of MLive.com. At the same time, Dombrowski hinted that Jose Valverde was merely going through "a rough 10 games",
Dombrowski told MLive:
"Papa Grande has had a rough 10 games, but he was solid before then," Dombrowski said. "His velocity is still good. Yesterday, his fastball was up to 94, 95.
"People always talk about getting a dominant closer. There are very few dominant closers out there. You can exchange a lot of closers and get the same ups and downs with each one."
Now, that sounds like a far cry from the doom that is portrayed by many reports of the Big Potato's demise. The Tiger GM, who was in Midland scouting the farm system, home of the Low-A Dodgers affiliate Great Lakes Loons, went on to say,
"As a GM, you’re always talking to other GMs … that’s kind of your responsibility. But in our situation, talks don’t really get serious until the trade deadline."
Dombrowski is taking some heat from fans and the media following the latest implosion by closer Jose Valverde. After all, it was Dombrowski who shunned the idea that Valverde needed to be replaced with a veteran closer in the off season. It was Dombrowski who provided manager Jim Leyland with rookie Bruce Rondon, and the current cast of relievers in the Tiger bullpen. And it was Dombrowski who brought back Valverde when Rondon didn't step up and claim the job in spring training.
Actually, it was very much out of character for Dombrowski to not supply the major league team with a veteran closer. In every season since 2004, Dombrowski has always had one free agent closer on the roster. First, it was Ugueth Urbina, then Troy Percival, Todd Jones twice, Brandon Lyon (who lost the job in spring training to Fernando Rodney) and finally Valverde.
This time, though, Dombrowski let Valverde become a free agent and his designated replacement was Rondon, who had yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues.
He did make a similar move once before, when he allowed Placido Polanco to leave as a free agent after the 2009 season without so much as an offer of arbitration, and installed Scott Sizemore at second base. Sizemore had yet to play a game in the major leagues at the time, and we all know how that turned out. Not until last summer was that problem rectified, when Dombrowski swung a savvy trade for Omar Infante as part of the Turner for Anibal Sanchez deal.
It was Dombrowski who sounded confident in the bullpen plan during the winter, much moreso than Jim Leyland. The Tiger manager openly doubted every pitcher in his bullpen except possibly Rondon. Now that Valverde is struggling, he made clear in this rant that he had little confidence in anyone else to do the job.
Perhaps Dombrowski is merely telling us the reality of the situation. Fact of the matter is that there are few dominant closers, and we were fortunate to have had Valverde for three seasons, during which time he led the major leagues in saves.Teams who have a dominant closer aren't in a hurry to trade them just yet, signalling to their fan base that they're running a white flag up the pole on the season in June.
Perhaps Dombrowski also has more confidence in some of the other relief pitchers on the Tiger roster than his manager does. But according to at least one report from Danny Knobler, Dombrowski is actively looking for a closer.
Tigers didn't need a Valverde blown save to remind them that they still need a closer. They've been looking hard, and will keep doing so.
I would be very surprised if Dombrowski wasn't scouring the major leagues, making calls in search of a closer.
Perhaps we will have to continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and ride the Valverdecoaster for a while longer. I would like to see an internal move made in the interim, but it's very likely that, even if Valverde stabilized for a while, or say Joaquin Benoit or Drew Smyly could step into the closer's role, the team will still add another bullpen piece, and maybe a corner outfielder before the trade deadline. There's too much risk in not doing so, and that's a risk that Dombrowski calculated in the winter.
There is no doubt that the Tigers are hell bent on winning a World Championship for owner Mike Ilitch, and that having a reliable closer is currently one essential missing piece of the puzzle.