By: Eric Thomas
Let’s stick with Valverde for now. Those six words are going to ruin my Twitter page for the next week. Already there are people calling me awful names, their typing thumbs filled with sweaty rage, eyes dilated black from a blood pressure spike usually associated with Luther burgers. Valverde wasn’t just the Achilles Heel in the post season last year; he was the character in Saving Private Ryan who wouldn’t walk the ammunition up the stairs. We all screamed at the screen in abject futility, and after it was over we collapsed into deep depression, needing a drink and a call from Mom. Papa Grande manages, in the minds of many, to be somehow both a scapegoat and a symptom of whatever problem they’ve already assigned to the Tigers as an organization.
Of course it’s justified to feel this way; a blown save might be the most difficult thing to behold in all of sports. You go from winning to losing in the space of a few at bats. It’s a thankless job, which is why only the weirdo’s do it. Closers only show up when the game is close, and if they have a bad day the whole team loses. Watching Valverde snatch defeat from the jaws of Scherzer’s brilliant victory wasn’t fun. You’re justified in feeling the way you do.
The closer carousel has spun much of the season; almost everyone got a turn before they brought Valverde back. Grande’s first appearance at Comerica was a nail biter, no one was confident after that. He’s blown two saves this year, both of them nauseating to behold, but two blown saves isn’t bad. Fernando Rodney, the new platinum standard in closers, has struggled this year. Mariano Rivera, who needs no introduction, has blown a save this year. It stinks, but it happens.
Suggesting Rick Porcello or anyone else in the rotation is essentially spinning the wheel. Porcello has the stuff to be a closer, but nowhere near the consistency. You never know if you’re going to get Rickroll’d. He’s had outings this year where he’s given up nine runs. If he were the closer on his bad days, at least the game would be over before he has a chance to give up nine.
Let’s not forget that if Porcello goes into the closing position and fails, it’s game over. Moving a pitcher back and forth to the pen isn’t going to help him, and it will only hurt him as trade bait, which is what he needs to be anyway. Porcello is a developing young player on a “win now” team; his highest value since the arrival of Sanchez is what the Tigers can get for his arm, not from his arm.
As far as Valverde, table it until the trades. Let him dance and earn a paycheck until the Tigers replace him. For all of Dombrowski’s faults in assembling a team without a bullpen, he’s done well at getting pieces during the season. The question of closer was a tertiary one last year; they needed help at second base. Two years ago they needed scoring and they got Delmon Young. The only thing the Tigers need (they don’t need to replace Avila, calm down) is bullpen strength. It would be reasonable to assume that Dombrowski will bring that talent before the deadline.
If they wind up stuck with Grande, it’s worrisome, but still not enough problem to spin the wheel again with the current roster. The back end of the bullpen was atrocious in the early season; let’s not live that nightmare again.