Regular season accomplishments are important in the game of baseball, but a player’s postseason performance usually defines his career.
See Jose Valverde.
Valverde has been a stalwart the past few seasons as the closer for the Detroit Tigers and is second to only Jonathan Papelbon in the saves since the 2006 season. However, Valverde’s 8.49 career postseason ERA has forced the Tigers to look elsewhere for a ninth-inning stopper.
As it stands, the Tigers appear content moving forward with 22-year-old prospect Bruce Rondon taking over the closer’s role. His 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound frame helps him produce a 100-mph fastball, and he’s working on his developing slider.
The upside is tremendous for Rondon, but there is just once problem: The first pitch he throws this season will be his first in the big leagues.
That’s right, the Tigers are hoping a player that will be making his Major League debut this year will settle in as the team’s closer. That definitely is a tall order for the reigning AL champs.
But based on the Tigers’ roster, the closer’s spot might be the only “hole” -- and it might even turn into a strength if Rondon bursts onto the scene.
The team added Torii Hunter and re-signed Anibal Sanchez. Victor Martinez will also return healthy to take over as the team’s primary designated hitter.
Of course, the Tigers’ already have a star-studded roster featuring reigning triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, perennial slugger Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander, who has won plenty of hardware himself.
Even so, a strong closer -- especially in the postseason -- is essential for a team’s success. The Tigers witnessed firsthand with Valverde how a game can blow up in the late innings.
The Tigers do have some veteran relieving options who can groom Rondon or even take over at the closer’s spot if necessary. Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke have plenty of experience, and Octavio Dotel has been a closer for much of his career.
Valverde is actually still available as a free agent. He’s a Scott Boras client and seems unwilling to accept a minor league deal, but if the Tigers really feel the need to replace Rondon, Valverde could be an option.
The Tigers surely though are hoping that a reunion with Valverde is unnecessary. Because if that is so, it means that Rondon is holding his own in the backend of Detroit’s bullpen.
The kid has the stuff to be a good closer, and he certainly has the positive influences around him. Now he just has to go out there and make it happen.