Originally written April 04, 2013 on Fox Sports Detroit:
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Three games into their season, the Tigers have already sent their fan base into a panic. No, it wasnt Phil Cokes blown save against the Twins in Minnesota on Wednesday that has caused this tizzy. It was the announcement that Detroit has signed their former closer, Jose "Papa Grande" Valverde, to a minor-league deal. Valverde will begin his season in Lakeland, Fla., and if he successfully progresses his way up the Tigers' food chain through Triple-A Toledo, he'll eventually be back in Detroit. It's a curious but harmless move - a risk worth taking since the closer role is far from being settled. According to reports, the Tigers sent members of their staff down to the Dominican Republic and watched a healthy Valverde throw with velocity and control. Obviously, the best-case scenario is that Valverde regains his form and becomes Detroits lights-out closer -- he's converted 110 out of 118 save opportunities with the Tigers. The worst is, he fades away into our memory banks. Either way, its so early into the season that having Papa pitching in the minors isn't a gigantic issue; however, the closer issue is one that needs to be resolved. Tigers manager Jim Leyland has let it be known that he wants a proven closer on his roster. Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was convinced that rookie Bruce Rondon could handle the closer role. Spring training proved that Rondon wasnt ready, which put Leyland into a closer-by-committee situation that hes not thrilled about. Leyland has always respected Valverde and defended him vigorously during his epic meltdown last season. Leyland has also said time and again that it takes a different kind of mindset to close a game in the big leagues, and Valverde has that mindset in Leylands eyes. Velverdes signing could be as simple as Dombrowski appeasing Leyland, but it really speaks to the fact that the Tigers are uncomfortable with their current closer situation. Dombrowski has put his manager in an awkward position that could put this season in jeopardy. Is Papa Grande the answer? Its a stretch to really believe that hes the Tigers' best option at closer, but hes certainly an option -- which reveals how messed up the closer situation is on an otherwise outstanding baseball team.
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