One of the last remaining free agents has finally signed a contract and landed with a new team, only in this case that new team is actually the same one he’d spent the past three seasons with. Former Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde has signed a minor league deal to return to the organization, after a reunion seemed almost assuredly like it was not going to happen, according to 1500 ESPN’s Patrick Reusse.
Valverde will report to the team’s Spring Training complex in Lakeland initially. Plans beyond that remain unclear, but Tom Gage of the Detroit News reports that Valverde’s deal contains an out clause, allowing him to become a free agent if he’s not on the team’s MLB roster by May 5th.
Over the past three seasons with Detroit, Valverde has been mostly reliable working out of the back of the team’s bullpen. He’s appeared in 206 games for the team over that stretch, saving 110 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.199 WHIP. His 2011 season, in particular, was a standout campaign. He led the league with 75 appearances, going a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities. He’d make the All Star team and finish in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting. Valverde’s peripheral stats during his Tigers career aren’t overly impressive – 7.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 – but he’s generally been able to get the job done anyways when called upon.
That is until this past postseason, of course. Valverde imploded. He’d allow 9 earned runs in just 2.2 IP. By the time the team reached the World Series he’d been replaced as the team’s closer and his departure from Detroit appeared all but certain.
The Tigers appear to going with a bullpen by committee this season, having spent most of the offseason fighting off questions surrounding the team’s perceived plan to use Bruce Rondon in the closer’s role. Rondon needs more minor league seasoning before taking on such a role, so the opportunities are mostly going to be shared between Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit initially. Should Valverde throw well in the minor leagues and should the team’s MLB bullpen falter, a return prior to the opt out date could be a real possibility.