Jose Valverde cost the Detroit Tigers another win on Wednesday, coughing up a two-run lead in the ninth inning en route to a 3-2, 10-inning loss to Kansas City. Even though Jim Leyland continues to stand his ground on Valverde as the closer, it’s apparent that the Tigers cannot get by like this for much longer.
So, what’s Plan B? (Or Plan C, if Bruce Rondon was Plan A?)
ESPN.com pitched — pun intended — a couple of ideas: Buster Olney cited a Tigers’ “rival evaluator” as saying that Jonathan Papelbon’s the man for the job; David Schoenfield wrote that Drew Smyly should get a crack, while the Tigers try to pry Jesse Crain from the White Sox.
Which way should Detroit go? The Detroit Sports Site staff airs its opinions in our latest Roundtable …
Chris Burke: I can’t believe we have to have this conversation in mid-June. Scratch that, I can believe it, but I’m annoyed that we have to, because everyone outside of Dave Dombrowksi knew this is the point the Tigers would reach without addressing the closer spot in the offseason.
Personally, I’d move Benoit into the closer role and try some combination of Smyly and, oh, Luke Putkonen in the setup spot. Maybe Benoit tanks … but then they’re right back where they are now. Plus, a setup guy would be easier to come by than a closer.
And if the Tigers are willing to take on Papelbon’s $13 million-a-year average for the next two or three seasons, why didn’t they just sign Rafael Soriano at $14 million?
Max DeMara: As I’ve written, I believe Papelbon to be the best option for the Tigers. Smyly and Benoit can be toyed with in the joint closer role for the rest of June and July to buy time if Jose Valverde is disposed of, but that combo would be far too uncertain and awkward to head into the playoffs with. Besides, each is needed more in their usual roles. Detroit’s probably not getting Crain from a division rival like Chicago, so Papelbon, if the Phillies decide to sell, is the best option. Owed $13 million, he’s expensive contractually and might cost a few prospects, but he’s also closed a World Series win and maintains an excellent playoff ERA (1.00) along with seven saves. Moreover, with a mix of confidence and arrogance, he’s got the right attitude for the job. That’s precisely the kind of closer the Tigers need to go anywhere down the stretch and in the playoffs this year.
If a World Series title is truly the objective in Detroit, Dave Dombrowski needs to get serious and add a championship level closer sooner rather than later no matter the cost. Papelbon would be the perfect fit.
Andrew Tomlinson: I am a big fan of using Benoit or Smyly as the closer as it gives the team versatility while also capitalizing on resources inside of the organization, instead of having to mortgage huge assets to pull in a closer. Smyly and Benoit have been stellar together and with Smyly not having a place in the rotation for the foreseeable future, moving him to closer is a way for the Tigers to get the most value out of their asset.
Additionally, Papelbon is also, well, not that great. Many forget his closing seasons with the Boston Red Sox when he was one of the most unreliable closers in the league. On top of that, what are the Tigers going to give up to get Papelbon? Is Smyly a trade piece; or Rick Porcello, who has suddenly turned it around? Is anyone really willing to part with Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos or Bruce Rondon for a guy who may be good but is not guaranteed to succeed? I’d imagine many would say no.
A Smyly-Benoit combo fixes a hole in the team while not really creating another need. This team always needed another setup arm in the bullpen and moving Smyly or Benoit does not change that, but it does shore up one of the team’s biggest question marks.