DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 27: Closing pitcher Jose Valverde #46 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates defeating the Cleveland Indians during a MLB game at Comerica Park on September 27, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers won 9-6 (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
After converting 52-of-52 save opportunities between the regular season and playoffs, bringing back Papa Grande was probably a no-brainer for the Tigers.
Friday morning, the team announced that Valverde's option is being picked up, making him the Tigers' closer for one more season.
Was this a no-brainer call for Detroit, after Valverde converted 49 save opportunities without blowing one? In the process, he surpassed Todd Jones' team record of 42 saves and shattered Guillermo Hernandez's club record of 32 consecutive saves. Valverde is also only the third reliever in major league history to be perfect during a season in which he converted at least 40 saves. Eric Gagne (55) and Brad Lidge (41) are the others.
Bringing Papa Grande back was certainly the popular move to make. Who doesn't want to see him kick up and dance after closing out a game with a big strikeout?
But is Valverde on a downward trend? His 8.59 strikeouts per nine innings was the lowest total of his nine-year career. And his 4.23 walks per nine — while not a career-high — is a concerning number. His postseason performance wasn't encouraging, either. Valverde allowed six runs in 7 1/3 innings, also giving up seven hits and six walks.
However, it should be considered that Valverde threw 72 1/3 innings in the regular season, the highest total of his career. That workload surely carried over into the postseason, where Valverde looked like a reliever who was pretty gassed out.
The fact is, of course, that the Tigers need Valverde to be their closer in 2012. And he's been the most dependable pitcher the team has had in that role for years. (No offense to Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney. Well, maybe a little bit.) There's really no other candidate on the roster to take over, unless Joaquin Benoit is moved to the ninth inning.
But that would leave a hole in the eighth-inning setup role. And as the postseason showed, Detroit's bullpen is already thin in middle relief, with Phil Coke probably the only pitcher Jim Leyland trusts. (The Rangers and Cardinals have both shown just how important a deep bullpen can be in their respective runs to the World Series.) The Tigers will almost certainly have to sign or trade for another reliever this offseason. Letting Valverde walk would've only weakened the relief corps.
Is there a better option on the free agent market? Maybe, but they could either be more expensive than Valverde's $9 million salary or less proven a commodity than a veteran who's shown he can handle the job. All things considered, the Tigers and Valverde — along with Tigers fans — should be happy that the partnership is lasting one more year.