Valverde saved 110 games in three seasons as a Tiger and blew only eight over that same span. Yet, a pair of major playoff meltdowns in Oakland and New York left a lasting impression.
The Tigers now have to decide who will close games for the 2013 club. Finding a closer is no easy task. It takes a certain temperament to get the final three outs. You can argue that the three outs relievers get in the seventh and eighth innings are just as important, but the three in the ninth are the toughest.
So where do the Tigers find their next closer? Well, they'll have plenty of avenues to explore.
Here are some of the options the Tigers could explore:
Phil Coke stepped up in the post season and despite allowing the game winning hit to Marco Scutaro in Game 4 of the World Series, he was impressive. After struggling in August, he pulled it together in the final month of the regular season and his 5 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball against the Yankees propelled the Tigers to the World Series. His clutch performances helped the Tigers through the Valverde implosion.
Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit are other choices. Dotel is the only option of the three that has extensive experience closing, but he will be 39 next year. Alburquerque has the strikeout stuff required but hasn't had many opportunities to close out games. Benoit has appeared more comfortable pitching the eight.
Bruce Rondon is one of the top prospects in the minor leagues. He had a strong season, pitching at Lakeland, Erie and Toledo in 2012 recording 29 saves with a 1.53 ERA combined. Rondon also appeared in the Futures Game, showcasing his blazing fastball. He has been clocked at 103 MPH and throws his breaking stuff consistently for strikes. However, he's only 21-years-old and has pitched in only 9 games above AA. Are the Tigers ready to hand him the ninth inning?
There are several established major league closers available, but the price is an issue. Front and center is Rafael Soriano who decided to opt out of the final year of his three year contract with the Yankees. Soriano's agent Scott Boras has intimated that his client could fetch up to $60 million over the next four years. $15 million a year for a closer is pretty steep considering the Tigers already have three $20 million/year players in Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander.
Jonathan Broxton and Joakim Soria are two other names. Broxton is one of the top talents available this side of Soriano. He split time with the Royals and Reds in 2012 and saved 27 games. Soria missed 2012 with Tommy John surgery but saved 43 games for the Royals in 2010. The Royals declined Soria's option, making him a free agent.
Closer in waiting:
Following the 2003 season, the MinnesotaTwins traded catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants and received Joe Nathan as part of the package in return. Nathan appeared in 78 games the previous season, posting a 2.96 ERA but did not save a single contest. The following season the Twins made him their closer and he went on to become one of the game's most dominant ninth inning specialists, saving 260 games in a Twins uniform.
Can the Tigers find, and trade for, the next Joe Nathan? It's possible. There are quite a few candidates waiting for their opportunity to close. Of the arms that we saw this year around the league, several names jump out as closers in the waiting. Nate Jones (White Sox), Ryan Cook (A's), Cody Allen (Cleveland) and Pedro Strop (Orioles) all have electric arms. The asking price would be be formidable.
Finding a new closer will be one of the Tigers priorities, but it's a decision that may not be made until next spring. It all depends on the avenue they explore.