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Who should be the Tigers closer? Jim Leyland wants your advice.

by Colin Windecker

Who should be the Tigers closer? Jim Leyland wants your advice.

Jim Leyland needs your help. Right now he is stuck in a jam on whom he should be calling on to pitch for the Tigers in the ninth inning. At least that’s what he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

"Some fans believe [Jose] Valverde is a Leyland creation," Leyland says. "They think the manager loves him or he wouldn't be here. I don't understand who they think we should be closing with. I'm asking that question, 'Who the (expletive) should I be closing with? I mean, do they want some rookie kid? I don't understand that. Who the (expletive) should I close with? Who do you want me to close with? Who the (expletive) do you want to be the closer? … I don't know what the (expletive) these people want. They just throw stuff out there. People just talk, they don't think about it. Sometimes it boggles my mind."

In my opinion, the closer for now should still be Valverde. Before you bite my head off and question my creditability hear me out. Valverde didn’t get a spring training. Until April 4th he was a free agent with no place to play and no chance of seeing live hitting until he pitched in his game on April 20 with Single-A Lakeland.  I look at it this way, the first 30 days after making his season debut was Valverde’s “spring training”. 

Since May 20, the artificial start of Valverde’s real season, he has blown two saves. This is baseball and as cliché as it may sound three strikes and you’re out. If Valverde blows one more save within the next few weeks he should be gone. No questions asked. Sorry Papa Grande you’ve been given enough chances and know your only real secondary pitch isn’t splitting the way it did two years ago. You are no longer an asset but now a giant liability.

But if Valverde isn’t the answer as the closer, then who should get the ninth inning role?

ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote an article that the Tigers best option would be to trade for Phillies closer Jonathon Papelbon. His numbers are great this year, he has post-season experience and with the Phillies not having the season they expected, the Phillies front office might be willing to deal him for some younger talent to build around. And while the Tigers could easily afford his salary ($13M in 2014 and ’15 with a vesting option in ’16), what and whom they would have to give up in terms of prospects might be steep. But if there is a GM in baseball who could make it happen Dave Dombrowski is certainly that man.

But trading for a new closer isn’t the only option. The Tigers could still stick with someone in house with the most popular choice being Joaquin Benoit. The problem with moving Benoit to the closer spot is that this will just create a new area of concern. Who will be the 8th inning guy? Benoit has been so effective as the set-up man do you the Tigers really want to risk moving him out of that role?

Drew Smyly has been another name thrown around as a suitable 9th inning guy. Smyly has been incredible out of the pen this year after starting the majority of 2012 and he has faced enough high pressures situations that he could take off the closer duties and do just fine.

However, what might be the best option if Valverde can’t get it together is to do what the plan was along at the beginning of the year, and that would giving the duties to Bruce Rondon.

Despite getting roughed up during spring training and during a short stint in Detroit earlier this season, Rondon has been sensational at Triple-A Toledo this year. The biggest concern with Rondon is his command and while the 22 year old righty has walked 12 hitters over 24 innings of work, his WHIP is an extremely impressive .84 while holding batters to just a .112 BA against.

The closer position is still a giant question mark and needs to be figured out. However, the good thing for the Tigers is that they should be able to win the AL Central easily and will have time to figure it out. The only thing I do know is that despite his ability to do pretty much everything else on the diamond, Miguel Cabrera is not the answer to the Tigers closer situation.