- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The Detroit Tigers were rained out at home against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night, but Jim Leyland's crew still made arguably the biggest news of the fantasy day: by not only signing established but recycled closer Jose Valverde to a one-year contract but also announcing that if the team had a save situation Wednesday, the 35-year-old right-hander would get the chance to close it out. So much for working him back slowly into the bullpen!
This news isn't overly surprising to me. After all, it has been discussed quite a bit on the Friday Fantasy Focus Baseball podcasts with me and Tristan H. Cockcroft, and there's even a pending board bet on the topic. (I've had the over on 25 saves for three weeks now.) Nevertheless, it's sending fantasy owners everywhere looking for Valverde on the free-agent wire while wondering what the Tigers are thinking.
Well, I'll tell you what they're thinking: Valverde saved 35 games a year ago and boasts 277 of them in his career, and experience seemingly matters more to teams than, well, anything else. It doesn't make it right, but it also doesn't matter if Valverde is a better pitcher than setup man Joaquin Benoit, just like it's irrelevant that Kenley Jansen is superior to Brandon League for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Leyland made his intentions quite clear Tuesday, and fantasy owners can mock it all they want, but if they ignore it, they could miss out on the payoff.
Sure, Valverde got himself run out of town with his brutal October performance last year, and he couldn't find work until April. But as soon as the Tigers gave him a minor league contract three weeks ago, this writing was on the wall. Of course, it didn't hurt that the Tigers couldn't settle on a closer. With Octavio Dotel hitting the disabled list Tuesday, the team brought in Valverde, who was pitching in high-A Lakeland, as well as future closer Bruce Rondon, who was succeeding at Triple-A Toledo but remains just wild enough to scare everyone.
Valverde doesn't have to be great to accrue saves, which has been my main point all along. I don't expect great. He wasn't great in 2012 while saving 35 games, and his fastball velocity has been in steady decline for years, plummeting last year. Of course, recent reports have Papa Grande looking quite a bit less, well, "grande" since last season, losing considerable weight, and he supposedly has been hitting the mid-90s with his fastball while overpowering 20-year-olds at Lakeland. But forget all that: Antonio Alfonseca was never great, either. It's about opportunity, and while Valverde could certainly blow his chance at redemption (and 300 career saves), I don't think he will.
Even in shallow, 10-team standard mixed leagues, any regular closer is worth owning, so add Valverde immediately. Say what you will about the guy, but even last season, his worst since 2006, he ended up just outside the top 20 pure relievers (removing starters such as Kris Medlen and Chris Sale who had RP eligibility) on ESPN's Player Rater. He wasn't that bad, and I don't think he'll be any worse in 2013. Enjoy the 25-plus saves.
Box score bits (AL): The Oakland Athletics continue to mash, and after Tuesday's rain-shortened, 13-0 whitewash of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway, they lead the majors in runs scored. How about some love for right-hander Bartolo Colon, who was credited with the shutout? Colon is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He's owned in only 3.8 percent of mixed leagues, but it sure looks like his 2012 numbers (3.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) were legit. … The Seattle Mariners placed center fielder Franklin Gutierrez on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained right hamstring. Gutierrez was on the most-added list two weeks ago, but that was a mistake. You don't want his likely replacement. It's Endy Chavez. No, really. … Minnesota Twins rookie Oswaldo Arcia blasted his first big league home run in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, and it earned him the No. 3 lineup slot, nestled between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, in the nightcap. That's interesting! Arcia, 21, was torching Triple-A pitching (.394 batting average, three home runs) but doesn't warrant a standard-league pickup just yet. His playing time is hardly assured. … Underrated Houston Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell had his left hand busted by a Hisashi Iwakuma pitch and was placed on the DL after Tuesday's game. Enticing prospect Robbie Grossman has been called up. A patient walk machine in the minors, Grossman doesn't figure to hit for much power or be an effective base stealer, but he should play regularly and get on base.
Box score bits (NL): Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman came off the DL and hit cleanup at Coors Field on Tuesday. He should be active in all leagues right away. With right fielder Jason Heyward on the DL (appendectomy), the team predictably turned to Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer to platoon. Johnson hit three doubles and a single in the first game, while Schafer had two hits in the second game. Schafer stole 27 bases a year ago and is the lefty-hitting portion of the platoon, so he'd be the preferred pick. … Braves right-hander Julio Teheran brought a 7.31 ERA into his outing at Coors Field. No way you'd use him, right? Of course he goes seven innings and allows one run. There's upside here, but if you dropped him, don't feel bad. In fact, I'd wait another few outings to see if it's real. … San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin played his first game since serving a suspension for his role in the fracas with Zack Greinke, and he contributed an RBI single. Quentin is a 25-homer threat, but health issues generally get in the way. … The New York Mets called up outfielder Juan Lagares from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he posted a .929 OPS. Lagares should play regularly in center field and contribute in stolen bases but not the power categories. … Mets lefty Jonathon Niese left Tuesday's blowout loss early after taking a line drive off his right leg, and he's questionable for his next outing. Niese did not pitch well, but don't read much into that.