The Detroit Tigers signed their former closer Jose Valverde on Thursday to a minor league deal, he will report to Lakeland, Fla.
“We love Papa Grande. He’s been fantastic for this organization,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said today via The Detroit Free Press. “He’s been fantastic as a person. We saw a little fall-off last year, and it wasn’t just during the postseason. So we had come to the conclusion that we were going to move on from that scenario.”
Valverde, 35, recorded 35 saves last season for the American League champion Tigers but had a 3.78 ERA. In three seasons with the club, Valverde converted 110-of-118 save opportunities, including 49 saves in 2011.
But Valverde blew five saves last season and was replaced by Phil Coke in the postseason.
“There are no major league commitments to the deal,” said Dombrowski. “He is going to join our club in Lakeland — our extended (spring training) program — and throw to some hitters, then … join our Toledo affiliate. There is no specific time frame on that. But he’s been throwing 40 to 60 pitches, bullpenwise, over the last time period.
“So in talking to (agent) Scott Boras, he said he’s ready to go and face some hitters. So we figured we would sign him. Scott has talked to me extensively through the last few months. We were willing to take a look at him and see what happens.”
Dombrowski said Valverde looks healthy and was open-minded about joining the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
“We actually had somebody take a look at Papa Grande last (Saturday). One of our scouts in the Dominican went and looked at him. He threw on the side. Velocity was solid. He threw some splits. But we figured, at this point, it was a situation where we had nothing to lose, and he’s open-minded … at this time.
“He was in the low to touching mid-90s. He had thrown some splits on a much more consistent basis. There is no question he has lost more weight, but that really was not a concern of ours last year, because we thought he was in decent shape. But he has lost another 15 pounds, they say. Our guys verified he was in very good shape.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in February that he was “shocked” and “broken-hearted” his fomer closer was still a free agent.
“I’m shocked, totally shocked,” Leyland said. “Broken-hearted. Can’t believe it. This guy was absolutely fantastic, absolutely fantastic for us. One of the best teammates I’ve ever managed. He did as good a job … for three years in a row, he had the most saves and the best percentage. I can’t believe it.”