Fantasy Sports

Fantasy Baseball 2013: Jose Valverde Back for Detroit Tigers, Be Cautious

Rick Osentoski-USA Today Sports

For those of you with a strong stomach, I bring up last year’s playoffs and then-Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde‘s horrid pitching performance. In three appearances and 2.1 IP between the ALDS and ALCS, Valverde blew two saves, allowed seven earned runs, seven hits, and two home runs. It wasn’t easy for me, a New York Yankee fan, to witness, but I can only imagine how it felt to Tigers fans and — to reach a larger number of people — Yankee haters. It’s okay, though, you guys got the last ALCS laugh (sigh).

After his struggles, Valverde lost his closer-role later those playoffs to Phil Coke who, surprisingly, was extremely effective. A post-playoffs Valverde became a free agent and parted ways with the Tigers after three years and 110 saves. In the ensuing offseason, Valverde didn’t receive much interest from other teams and eventually packed up, lifted off, and joined the Dominican League. And this is where the story turns back around. The Tigers’ offseason didn’t go much better: their closer-of-the-future Bruce Rondon continues to suffer control problems, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel are still old, and Phil Coke is a lefty best used situationally.

After their plan to committee-close to start the season with hopes of Rondon developing or a fortuitous trade closer to the deadline, the Tigers agreed to a minor-league contract with Scott Boras that would send Valverde to Lakeland, Fla. for some tuning up. Alas, this is one of those situations that benefits real baseball much more than it does fantasy or, more importantly, the fortune of your fantasy team.

Even before Valverde’s postseason struggles, his peripherals were beginning to show a soft decline. His SO% was down, although so was his BB%, his LD% was up and, most of all, his SV% was its lowest since 2009. Now, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying; Valverde can still pitch and it’s seemingly unfair how much hate and animosity gets strewn into his face. As late as 2011, Valverde, although it was an ugly perfection (if there is such a thing), posted 49 saves in 49 save opportunities. Considering his success only two years ago, it’s surprising how little attention he got this offseason. Yes, he’s 35, but there have been plenty of successful relievers older than that. And yes, his 88% SV% was only mediocre last year. But there’s more working here than just his pitching skills.

Although there are murmurs that Valverde is in great shape and that, compared to the end of last year, he added a few MPH to his fastball velocity this spring, he still has to get back into baseball shape and back into the Tigers’ good faith. There’s no doubt the Tigers are hoping for the best, and hope that Valverde bottles some of that 2011 magic (and a 100% SV% must indeed require at least some of it) to deliver another good year. But say he only pitches decent. Who’s to say the Tigers aren’t merely interested in adding an arm to the bullpen to bridge the gap between the SP and Phil Coke? Maybe he’ll just be another arm.

Also, Valverde has the option to opt out of his contract if he doesn’t reach the majors by May 5th — a day Baseball Prospectus’s Paul Sporer, a Tigers fan, found fitting, as it’d give him extra reason to celebrate when Valverde does opt out. Don’t doubt that the Tigers front office will continue to find another fit even while Valverde makes his way up the Minor League levels en route to the Tigers. And maybe by the time he does get there, his relatively old body begins to break down; he pitched very little in the DR and maybe the success was a fluke.

If you have extra roster space, go after Valverde. But for those of you like me with a tight ESPN roster, it’s probably not smart to waste a roster spot for a month for something that might not even ever happen.

Follow your new Rant Sports fantasy correspondent, Nick Tom on Twitter @NickTomFB , ‘Like’ him in da FBook, or +1(?) him on Google Plus. He’s always willing to answer fantasy questions and mess around.