The Detroit Tigers have been planning on giving prospect Bruce Rondon the first shot to serve as their closer in 2013, which means they'd be handing narrow leads to a 22-year-old with just nine games experience above Double-A baseball. This concept has drawn questions from fans and media, but the club is sticking to their guns, writes Lynn Henning of the Detroit News.
Such a stance kept the club from considering free agents Rafael Soriano, Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria and Kyle Farnsworth. The Tigers also decided against trading for Joel Hanrahan, who went to the Red Sox.
While former Giants closer Brian Wilson, who's recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, has been mentioned as a possibility, GM Dave Dombrowski told MLB.com's Jason Beck that Wilson wants to close -- and the Tigers can't make that promise right now.
Detroit does have veterans to go to in the ninth inning if Rondon struggles, including Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit. Octavio Dotel also has closing experience. The problem is if Rondon struggles enough for the club to remove him from the closer role, it may mean the Tigers are down a reliable arm in the bullpen altogether, even if one of the vets settles into the ninth inning. In that case, Dombrowski's club may be among those in the market to find another veteran.
GM Dave Dombrowski reiterated Tuesday that Rondon will have to win the job in camp.
If the Tigers need to address the bullpen during the season, there are a few experienced closers that may be available in June or July.
Chris Perez, RHP -- Cleveland Indians
Perez is set to earn $7.3 million in 2013, suggesting the chances he remains in Cleveland beyond the season are slim. If the Indians fall out of contention, Perez may be the first name to be moved by the July 31 trade deadline. Intra-division trades are somewhat rare, but Perez is likely to be shopped.
Fernando Rodney, RHP -- Tampa Bay Rays
Rodney isn't going anywhere unless the Rays fall back in the ultra-competitive east where every team's roster is good enough to win 85 or more games. A key injury or two could be the difference, and the Rays aren't immune to such a scenario. Rodney will be a free agent after the season, and it's unlikely the club tenders a pricey qualifying offer to a relief pitcher, meaning a trade could make sense instead.
Rafael Betancourt, RHP -- Colorado Rockies
Betancourt's days in Colorado could be numbered, but he's making just $4.25 million this coming season with the same salary on a club option for 2014. The return will have to make sense for the Rockies, but Betancourt could be a hot commodity come July and could fill a late-inning role for a contender down the stretch.
John Axford, RHP -- Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have a chance to compete, but they might be the third best team in the division on paper and the margin for error is thin. Axford, who hit arbitration as a Super Two this offseason, is starting to get pricey -- he'll make $5 million in 2013 -- and unless the club extends him to get some cost certainty, GM Doug Melvin could see the value in trading him this summer.
Huston Street, RHP -- San Diego Padres
Street seems to find his way into the rumor mill every summer, and 2013 shouldn't be any different. The Padres aren't likely to contend, and they have younger, cheaper options that can step in for Street. The right-hander's contract may be an issue, however. He's injury-prone and guaranteed $7 million in each of the next two seasons, so he's not going to be at the top of any contender's list.
Casey Janssen, RHP -- Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays, like the Rays, aren't likely to shop Janssen unless they fade significantly by June or early July, but there's also a chance the team's other options are rolling and a young arm develops quickly, giving GM Alex Athopoulos the freedom to shop a reliever when they often are at their highest value -- the July 31 trade deadline.
Heath Bell, RHP -- Arizona Diamondbacks
Bell was traded from Miami to Arizona earlier this offseason, but he'll be the setup man to J.J. Putz, at least to start the season, and if the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants pull away by mid-season, GM Kevin Towers is likely to consider moving Bell and the $5 million the D-backs owe him for each of '13 and '14. Miami is covering $4 million of Bell's $9 million salares in 2013 and 2014, but unless he's the closer, it's not great value, and Putz was just given an extension to remain in Arizona beyond this coming season.
Jim Johnson, RHP -- Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles do not appear to be opening up the wallet to the extent where paying a closer a salary approaching $10 million, or more, will make a lot of sense, and that's where Johnson is headed. The two sides have not agreed on a deal for 2013 yet, but Johnson is seeking more than $7 million with the club offering $5.7 million in arbitration. Assuming the two meet somewhere near the mid-point of $6.35 million, Johnson would be set to seek a raise into the $10 million range for 2014. If the O's are in the thick of it all, Johnson will not be shopped, as long as he's performing. Otherwise, he'll hit the trade block with Perez, Street and Bell.
The Tigers could be in the market for any of the above -- that is, if Rondon does not grab the job and run with it.
"Rondon might be the next Kimbrel; Atlanta's stud closer was wild in the minors, as well. Or he could be Jordan Walden, who lost the Angels' closer job early last season. I find it hard to believe the Tigers won't sign a veteran presence at some point for insurance now that Jose Valverde is gone. Rondon is a strikeout/upside guy for the later rounds."