Anyone who follows baseball regularly and the Detroit Tigers specifically knows that the Detroit closer situation is in a bit of a mess. Jose Valverde once again has shown that he can't be counted on for finishing games out on a regular basis. Thursday, manager Jim Leyland named reliever Joaquin Benoit as the closer, but we all are not sure how permanent this will be.
The prevailing thought in baseball is that the Tigers will go out find a closer in a trade before the July 31 deadline. The current rumors are that the Tigers are one of the teams who are interested in Philadelphia Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon. He has been one of the top closers in baseball since 2006 and is currently signed thru 2015, so this could solve the problem for the next few years. The drawback, of course, is that Detroit will likely have to give up something high in the deal. Phillies, who has all the leverage here, will be asking in return for some of the Tigers' top prospects such as outfielders Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos and pitcher Jose Alvarez.
These young players are the future of the Tigers and should not be readily available in a trade. At some point, current players such as Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister will be getting high salary offers on the free agent market and the Tigers will not be able to afford to keep each one. They will need some players within the organization be ready to replace the departed. Tigers may also lower their payroll in the future and will not want to resign all of their players or afford comparable free agents during the offseason. Detroit could also go after a lesser name in a trade and give up less, but they will still give up somebody and not be guaranteed winning a World Series.
My suggestion would not cost Detroit any current prospects and not require an acquisition of any kind. I think that Detroit should de-emphasize the closer role and use the pieces that currently own. Right now, the Tigers have five legitimate starters with Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello and a sixth who is ready to be a part of the rotaion in Drew Smyly. Plus, Jose Alvarez has shown he is capable in his two spot starts subbing for the injured Sanchez.
I believe Smyly and Alvarez(once Sanchez is back as a starter) both could finish out games in two or three inning stints twice or so a week each. The current usage of the bullpen in baseball that a team needs one person each for the seventh and eighth and another one for the closer role for the ninth is excessive in my eyes. I think the teams are putting unneeded extra pressure on each pitcher to get three outs to maintain a lead and also are relying on too many pitchers for each game. The manager doesn't know that each reliever will be as effective as the last one and should not have the mindset of using a pitcher for one inning apiece. He should be able to use a pitcher longer when he is pitching well in a game.
I think a Benoit and a lefty specialist like a Phil Coke could still be used effectively whether getting out of a jam in a sixth or seventh inning and have Smyly or Alvarez finish the games or be used to close games out as is it usually done now on occasion as Smyly or Alvarez can not pitch every game. I also believe that Smyly and Alvarez, who are both are trained starters, are most effective when starting an inning for themselves as opposed to putting out fires during innings. Let the pitchers be used in situations that their most comfortable in and good results should follow.
An added bonus of using Smyly and Alvarez in these roles is that in case the Tigers lose one of their starters to an injury or free agency, one of these two will be ready to step into the rotation. They would be accustomed to pitching several innings at a time multiple times a week at the big league level. This "extended closer" role would also be great for a rookie pitcher on an innings limit like Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Senators last year or for a current closer who may become a starter like the Cincinnati Reds' Aroldis Chapman.
There are many teams that have solid bullpens as they are currently used and should not be messed around with, but if you are favorite team is having the same problem as the Detroit Tigers, they may have to try something new like putting less emphasis on the closer role to finish games more successfully.