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The Very Likely Return of Todd Jones

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Bear with me, as I'm a couple of days late with some of this stuff, but I got caught up in posting the SBN Baseball Awards results for most of the week.

From the very beginning of the Detroit Tigers' off-season, the team has made it clear that they want and intend to re-sign Todd Jones to at least a one-year contract. That became even more of a priority once a 50 lb. box destroyed the AC joint in Joel Zumaya's right shoulder, trashing the Tigers' plans to create a line of succession from old and busted to new hotness for the closer role.

Jones, meanwhile, has said that he'd like to return to the Tigers, yet also made it known that he'd prefer to play for a team geographically closer to his home in Alabama. And only one major league team fulfilled that requirement: the Atlanta Braves.

It's understandable why Jones would make that assertion from the start. Besides wanting to play closer to home and family, having teams in competition for his services drives up the market value. Yet Jones also appeared to be making the rather large presumption that the Braves would be interested in signing a free agent closer. And Atlanta's current pitching staff seemed to let the air out of that faulty logic balloon.

The Braves already have a closer-in-waiting with Rafael Soriano, who was probably good enough to be Seattle's ninth inning man, but J.J. Putz was already in place (becoming arguably the best closer in the American League this past season). Soriano showed his suitability for the role while Bob Wickman was out with a back injury, and also after Wickman was eventually released. He racked up nine total saves in 12 opportunities, along with a 3.00 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 72 innings.

Atlanta also has an excellent set-up man in Peter Moylan, with a 1.80 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 90 innings, and should also have Mike Gonzalez (acquired last off-season in John Schuerholz's brilliant bullpen reconstruction) available, once he returns from Tommy John surgery in June. So unless Frank Wren subscribes to the "you can never have enough relievers" school of general managing, where is his team's need for a free agent closer?

All of this was a long-winded (and thank you for sticking with me) way of saying that there's no way the Braves were going to be interested in signing Todd Jones. And Wren confirmed that this week at the general manager meetings in Orlando.

So barring an offer Jones can't refuse from another team in crying need of a veteran closer (and none really come to mind that need one more than the Tigers), his return to the Tigers seems almost a formality. But it appears that Dave Dombrowski is making sure he'll be covered if Jones happens to sign elsewhere.

The name at the top of the replacement list seems to be Eric Gagne. Not only would he likely cost the same as Jones in money and contract length, but he also offers a little more "dazzle" when it comes to his stuff. Overall, Gagne struck out 51 batters in 52 innings, with 21 walks and a 3.81 ERA.

Yes, he stunk with the Red Sox after going to Boston in a mid-season trade, posting a 6.75 ERA and giving up 14 runs (and 26 hits) in 18 2/3 innings. But for whatever reason, maybe he just couldn't get comfortable in a set-up role. Maybe he struggles coming into high-pressure situations with runners on base. But maybe something just clicks with him when a save is on the line. As the Rangers' closer, Gagne converted 16 saves in 17 opportunities, while accumulating a 2.16 ERA.

Detroit might also have its eye on former Rockies closer, Brian Fuentes. He lost his job to Manny Corpas after missing most of July with a back (lat muscle) injury, but before that, converted 20 of 26 save opportunities. And the last four of those blown saves (which came in consecutive appearances) were likely attributable to his injury troubles. Could the Tigers also be thinking of Fuentes as a set-up man to fill in for Joel Zumaya?

And just because they're too good to ignore (plus you never know if Mike Ilitch just has $40 million lying around to burn), Dave Dombrowski reportedly said hello to the agents for Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero in Orlando this week.

We'll end with some possibly outrageous speculation. The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro wrote that the Diamondbacks could be interested in dealing Jose Valverde, if the price was right. One of the starting pitchers they like is Jeremy Bonderman. I don't see any way the Tigers make that trade with the current state of their starting rotation. But it's something worth arguing about, isn't it? (via MLB Trade Rumors)