Detroit Tigers Rumors: Could Jose Valverde Return As Plan B?

By Thom Tsang
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

After watching his collapse in the playoffs in 2012 and taking the closer’s job away from him for good, the Detroit Tigers were supposed to be over Jose Valverde by now.

But now that Spring Training is in full swing, and the team is preparing to go into 2013 with rookie closer Bruce Rondon, it looks like someone just can’t quit the unemployed closer:

As Joel Sherman says, that Jim Leyland should be interested in having his former closer back on the team should be of no surprise. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the long-time Tigers manager said that he was  “totally shocked” and “broken-hearted” that Papa Grande hadn’t found himself another job in the bigs yet, and nothing has changed in that front since.

To everyone else who have watched the Tigers closer last season, though, his joblessness may not be so much of a surprise.

Already at the wrong side of 30 at 34-years old, Valverde is a free agent with diminishing returns. His velocity has come down over each of the seasons that he’s been in a Tigers uniform, and for someone who threw a fastball 82.4 percent of the time in 2012, the speed on the radar gun is going to be a big deal if it’s going to keep decreasing.

As well, his swinging strikes rate plummeted to a career-low 7.1 percent last season, and he was more hittable than he’d been than at any point over the last three years (.224 BAA), pushing his xFIP to a career-high 5.01.

In short, Valverde was lucky to have posted his 49-save streak in 2011, and was even luckier to have blown just five saves last season.

That should be all the reasons enough for the Tigers to move on from this point, but knowing Leyland’s allegiance to his guys, it’s likely that the rumors are going to keep coming back until he signs with somebody.

Plus, even with all the negativity over the downturn of his career, it’s not as though he wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Tigers. One, they’re not a rebuilding team, and two, the righty would (hopefully) only be used as a backup option, should guys like Rondon and Phil Coke doesn’t pan out.

Even as a mediocre reliever, there’s intangible value that having Valverde back in Detroit. Leyland did have high praise about the pitcher’s role as a teammate, and things like character and team chemistry isn’t something you can necessarily measure in numbers.

It just isn’t necessarily something the team wants to shell out the big bucks for, that’s all.

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