The other night I was eating dinner with an old friend talking about the upcoming Major League baseball season. He is not a Tigers fan, but like Jim Leyland, manager of the American League pennant winners, he couldn’t believe that no one wanted to sign free agent reliever Jose Valverde.
Leyland, who must be Valverde’s biggest fan in the game, a couple of weeks ago expressed astonishment that teams weren’t waving wads of cash at his former closer, and now he has said he wants to take him back.
This is like one of those up-and-down boy-girl relationships where things were great for a long while, then things went off the rails, and now the duo wants to block out the stormy times, remember the good times, and hope that allows them to patch things up. As my friend said, Hey, anyone can have a bad week.
Of course, Valverde picked a lousy time to have that off-week–during the post-season. He blew a save against the Oakland A’s and he blew a save against the San Francisco Giants. October is a very inconvenient month to blow saves because usually you can’t make up for them.
Players do get measured by their performances in the playoffs and World Series and if they falter the mistakes can haunt them for a lifetime. It takes a tough athlete to rebound from high-exposure failures partially because he failed in the clutch and partially because even the hint of backsliding means the local fans with long memories won’t let him have amnesia. It helps if the player has a history to fall back on and Valverde has 277 career saves and in 2011 the right-hander went a perfect 49 for 49 in save opportunities.
All of that said, it seems that both Valverde and the Tigers can benefit from him being brought back and Leyland, the old, wise head in the mix, knows it.
Valverde, who is from the Dominican Republic, is 34, so he is not too old. He has been a three-time All-Star. While with the Arizona Diamondbacks he led the National League in saves twice. In 2011, he led the American League in saves for the Tigers. He has had lights out stuff and it is not hard to believe that he will again.
Naturally, cost will be an issue. How much money do the Tigers want to invest in an insurance policy? They have already designated someone else, Bruce Rondon, as the closer for 2013. But the crazy lives of short relievers being what they are any number of things can happen to disrupt the reliance on the new guy (just ask Valverde how swiftly things can change).
Rondon could get hurt. Rondon could fizzle as the closer. (So far, in spring training, Rondon has shown that might happen.) Valverde could regain the magic in his arm. Detroit is figuring on being back in the playoffs and when it comes to the playoffs you can never have too many reliable parts in the bullpen. Valverde needs to regain his confidence and this is the best place for him to get well for a year.
Even if he works as a setup man for a season and displays top form Valverde can get a better job next year and he may yet help the Tigers to the World Series title they missed out on in 2012. So the best thing for all as Leyland musters the troops for a last chance before he retires is to sign him up.