Three games into the season, the Detroit Tigers have already sent their fan base into a panic.
No, it wasn’t Phil Coke’s blown save against the Twins in Minnesota on Wednesday that caused this tizzy.
It was the announcement that the Tigers signed their former closer, Jose “Papa Grande” Valverde, to a minor-league deal.
Valverde will begin his season in Lakeland, Fla., and if he successfully progresses his way up the Tigers’ food chain through Triple-A Toledo, he’ll eventually be back in Detroit.
It’s a curious but harmless move — a risk worth taking since the closer role is far from settled.
According to reports, the Tigers sent members of their staff down to the Dominican Republic and witnessed a healthy Valverde throw with velocity and control.
Obviously, the best-case scenario for the Tigers is, Valverde regains his form and becomes their lights-out closer again; he’s converted 110 out of 118 save opportunities with the Tigers. The worst is, he fades away into our memory banks.
Either way, it’s so early into the season that having Papa pitching in the minors isn’t a gigantic issue. However, the closer issue is one that needs to be resolved.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has let it be known that he wants a proven closer on his roster. Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was convinced that rookie Bruce Rondon could handle the closer role.
Spring training proved that Rondon wasn’t ready, which put Leyland into a closer-by-committee situation that he’s not thrilled about.
Leyland has always respected Valverde and defended him vigorously during his epic meltdown last season. Leyland has also said time and again that it takes a different kind of mindset to close a game in the big leagues, and Valverde has that mindset in Leyland’s eyes.
Velverde’s signing could be as simple as Dombrowski appeasing Leyland, but it really speaks to the fact that the Tigers are uncomfortable with their current closer situation.
Dombrowski has put his manager in an awkward position that could put this season in jeopardy.
Is Papa Grande the answer?
It’s a stretch to really believe that he’s the Tigers’ best option at closer, but he’s certainly an option — which reveals how messed up the closer situation is on an otherwise outstanding baseball team.