Closer Situation a Big Concern in Detroit
1 - The never-ending bullpen concerns:
They have the hitting, they have the starting pitching, the question is always the bullpen. I love the Torii Hunter signing and think he’s going to be a key component this year, but as he signed a 2-year $26-million contract nearly simultaneously to Rafael Soriano signing a 2-year $28-million contract, it was pretty clear that the Tigers had the wrong priorities. One of the main reasons the 2008 team was such a travesty was because so much money and time was spent on the lineup and the bullpen was just a collection of average relievers, none of which able to get the outs when the Tigers needed them most. And do we even need to bring up the bullpen struggles that almost took the Tigers out of the playoffs in the ALDS and almost cost Jose Valverde his life in the ALCS?
2 - Underperforming with High Expectations:
In the past half-decade or so, the Tigers have consistently underperformed when expectations are high. The 2008 team was one of the most loaded teams on paper in the past two decades of baseball, but the team finished last place in the Central. The 2006 team had all the pieces in place to roll over a Cardinals team that barely squeaked into the playoffs, but the World Series featured a different Tigers team. Then repeat that process again, switching 2006 for 2012 and Cardinals for Giants - though undoubtedly the Giants were a better team than the Cardinals and didn’t squeak into the playoffs. All in all, high expectations are dangerous in Mo-town.
The main discussion going into spring training led us to believe that rookie reliever Bruce Rondon would be taking over the 9th inning spot for the Tigers this year. Rookie closers aren’t anything of a novelty these days, with players like Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz, and Andrew Bailey all posting solid numbers as rookie closers.
But Rondon has been awful so far in spring training. In 5 2/3 innings this preseason, Rondon has walked 5 and allowed 3 runs, with opponents hitting .360 against him.
Manager Jim Leyland is still confident in Rondon saying, “I’m not seeing anything I didn’t expect,” he told the press. “He’s thrown it hard and they’ve hit it hard.”
But Leyland also made it seem a little open as to whether he believes Rondon is ready for the big roll right now: “He’s got the equipment. Is that equipment built up enough to be ready right now? I don’t know the answer just yet.”
There have been an abundance of alternatives discussed for the Tigers ninth-inning spot. Young right-handers Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villareal have led the discussion amongst current Tigers. Both are more used to 7th and 8th inning roles but have shown flashes of potential in their first few seasons. After last year’s playoffs, it would seem as if Phil Coke were one of the front-runners to fill in, but Leyland has made it clear that he wants to reserve the lefty Coke for more situational roles.
Trades have also been discussed, most predominantly a potential trade for Cubs Closer Carlos Marmol, who seems to be destined to leave Chicago somewhere between now and mid-season.
The Tigers have their eyes on the prize this season, but I know I don’t speak for just myself when I say that the Detroit Tigers fanbase is in need of a reliable 9th inning man that won’t demand for us to close our eyes and cross our fingers every-time we have a late game lead.