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Detroit Tigers Search for Closing Pitcher: Who Will It Be?

November 4th, 2012 at 4:16 PM
By Mack Lester

Since the news that Detroit’s front office will not attempt to resign closer Jose Valverde, questions have arisen on who the Tigers will choose as their new closer. Will they promote someone already in their bullpen, or will they scout the free agent market for a seasoned closer? There are qualified candidates in either source, but Detroit needs proven consistency above everything else.

'Octavio Dotel 1' photo (c) 2012, GabboT - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Let’s start with the Tigers’ bullpen. We all know it’s not the strongest or the most consistent, but there are a few prospects that could come through to earn the role. First there is the current set-up reliever, Joaquin Benoit, a right hander with three solid pitch types in his repertoire. He posted a 5-3 record in the regular season, along with two saves out of six opportunities. Next is Octavio Dotel, a 38 year old seasoned reliever, who just had his contract picked up for another season by the Tigers. He also posted a 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA.

Then there is Phil Coke, the 30 year old left hander. Right now he seems the most likely candidate in the bullpen, thanks to his clutch performances during this year’s postseason run. His unexpected saves in the ALCS were instrumental in sweeping the Yankees. During the regular season though, he was much less consistent, posting a 2-3 record with an even 4.00 ERA and only one save from three opportunities. The Tigers would need the kind of consistency we saw in the postseason through an entire 162 game season, but consistency from their bullpen has been lacking in the last few years. With the exception of Valverde's perfect 49-save season in 2011, the Tigers’ bullpen has been hit or miss in their appearances.

The next option would be to scout free agent relievers for the open closer position. Probably the best option available right now is Rafael Soriano, who just opted out of his contract with the New York Yankees. He was previously a set-up reliever, but stepped up to the designated closer when All-Star closer Mariano Rivera was injured along with fellow set-up pitcher David Robertson. For the 2012 regular season, Soriano was a key contributor to the Yankees’ 95-67 record. He produced 42 saves out of 46 opportunities, a 2.26 ERA, and has four pitches that he can use, but for the most part sticks to his four-seamer and sharp slider. Bringing him on board might be a little pricey, but if he can bring his talents to the Tigers’ bullpen, it will keep the Tigers as a serious World Series title contender.

Two other free agent prospects are found in Jonathan Broxton, formerly of the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds, and Francisco Rodriguez who just finished his contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. Both of these right handers have some serious experience in various bullpens, and can contribute to the Tigers without making them break the bank for either one. Broxton has more experience as a 9th inning pitcher and was having an All-Star caliber season with the Royals in 2012 before being traded to the Reds in late July.

In the end, the Tigers just need consistency and that cannot be stressed enough. Having a more consistent bullpen has probably been the biggest missing piece in Detroit recently. Their power hitting lineup isn’t known for their defensive abilities, so improving the pitching staff is the most logical option right now.

Tags: Baseball, closer, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, free agent, Joaquin Benoit, Jose Valverde, left hander, MLB, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, pitcher, Rafael Soriano, right hander

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