Having entered the season as the popular favorite in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers find themselves in the middle of the pack just a few weeks into the season and have taken some steps towards strengthening their bullpen with a pair of moves on Tuesday. Former closer Jose Valverde and future closer Bruce Rondon have both been added to the team’s active roster in separate moves.
Rondon’s addition was the team’s first move of the day, following an announcement that Octavio Dotel would need to head to the DL thanks to inflammation in his right elbow. Rondon was recalled to take his place after a dominant start to his season at Triple-A. In seven appearances for the Toledo Mudhens Rondon has thrown 7.2 IP, allowing just five hits (all singles) and a pair of walks while striking out nine (10.6 K/9). Initially it’s expected that Rondon will be worked into the late-inning mix, but he likely will not be asked to close games right out of the gate. He was viewed as the team’s likely closer entering Spring Training, but struggles with his command and composure ultimately led the team to start him back in the minor leagues to begin the season.
Valverde’s return is a different situation. The team’s former closer spent most of the offseason waiting on the open market for a call that never came. It has seemed clear throughout the winter that a return to Detroit was out of the question, given the right-hander’s struggles and collapse during the playoffs, but as he remained available and the team continued along without a bona-fide closer on the roster, suddenly the idea of a reunion wasn’t such an odd one. Valverde initially re-joined the Tigers on April 4th, signing a minor league deal that carried an opt-out clause if he wasn’t on the Major League roster by early May. The deal did not carry any provisions covering when/if he were to be recalled. Early Tuesday evening the team announced a new one year deal with Valverde, in conjunction with an announcement that he’ll be joining the team in Detroit by Wednesday. Valverde is expected to step right into the closer’s role. Brayan Villarreal was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Valverde.
Between Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Phil Coke the Tigers will have three players on their active roster with closing experience (though Benoit and Coke have both struggled in the role thus far this season). Add in Rondon and Al Alburquerque and that’s the making of a fairly strong bullpen (at least on paper). If the Tigers are going to compete again this season – and fare better in the postseason than they did in last year’s World Series – they’ll need consistent production from the group throughout the year.