The Detroit Tigers Need Rafael Soriano

The Detroit Tigers’ veteran closer Jose Valverde melted down at the end of 2012. Like butter on a short stack.

A Rick Ankiel-sized meltdown.

Valverde blew a couple big saves in the playoffs and posted a 5.00-plus ERA for September and October, eventually losing his gig Phil Coke (you know you’ve had a meltdown when you lose this guy).

But this is less about Papa Grande and more about the Detroit Tigers.

After a disappointing World Series performance, the Tigers are looking to return and avenge their season-ending sweep. They’re already considered to be one of the best team’s of 2013, making just a small handful of offseason moves (bringing back Anibal Sanchez, signing Torii Hunter). The pieces are in place everywhere but in the bullpen. Because the Detroit Tigers are planning to do something atypical—start the season with a rookie closer.

Bruce Rondon’s never pitched a single frame in Major League Baseball. Never closed out a major league game. Never consistently located the strike zone. Yet GM Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers are planning on turning him loose as closer, in this, an era that might be considered their “window” for winning.

The plus-sized Venezuelan’s fastball clocks in at upper 90s, but he’s had some trouble locating his pitches. At just 22, he’d be the youngest closer in the league. That alone isn’t surprising, but the fact that he’d be the youngest closer for a legitimate contender?

His 2012 performance in the Tigers farm system was impressive, ascending from A+ Lakeland to AAA Toledo. But do the reigning American League champions really want to an unproven, unseasoned rookie closing out their games?

The Motor City needs Rafael Soriano. He’s available, he’s tested, and he’s eager to close after his time with the Yankees as a setup guy and a season as a replacement closer for an injured Mariano Rivera. Soriano was signed to a three-year, $35 million contract with the Yankees and opted out of his $14 million third year this offseason. In 2012, he saved 42 of 45 after Rivera went on the DL, but was bounced around from setup guy to closer with David Robertson.

It would appear that by opting out of his $14 million third year, Soriano is looking for a longer term contract. The $14 million would be the second highest AAV among relief pitchers, yet Soriano said no. The Tigers could take one of two approaches: Sign Soriano to a longer term deal (and shelve Rondon for a few more years) or give Soriano a massive one-year deal. I’m typically opposed to paying high-profile closers a big chunk of money, but in this case, to avoid another postseason collapse it might be worth it.

The move would return Soriano to a true closer role, where he’s thrived for years. And it would give Rondon a little more time to earn his stripes, setting up games for Soriano for a season or two. And maybe a little time on the treadmill, too.