The Longest Winter in Memory

Will this guy close games for the Tigers in 2013? This winter will tell us.

 

In the sense of a timeline, teams that were eliminated long before the playoffs started, have the longest winter. However, in a relative sense, these Tigers, your 2012 Detroit Tigers, have the longest winter in baseball. It’s always tough for the World Series runners up but for the first time in six years, what feels like the longest winter lies ahead for the Motor City.

All the tests have been turned in and it appears the Tigers failed the biggest exam of all: the World Series. As a team, it didn’t work out. But individuals make up the team. So let’s take a look at how each player did individually and breakdown what could happen to each player this winter. However, so as to savor this baseball season we will look at each section of the team on a weekly basis. Today we will start with the bullpen.

AL ALBURQUERQUE:

GRADE: B

Al Al’s 2012 performance should get fans excited for next season. Although he missed most of the season coming back from shoulder surgery, when he did return, he was at full strength. His fastball is still in the 90s and his slider reminds me of a much better, much younger, Jose Valverde. Keeping that in mind, I would say he is the front runner, barring a free agent pickup, to be the new closer in 2013. Oh, how Detroit needs stability in the 9th….

DUANE BELOW

GRADE: C+

I’ll be honest, there’s really not much to be said here. Below performed to expectations; expectations that weren’t very high. He did exactly what Leyland needed: spot starts, mop up duty, and effectiveness against lefties. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Duane in 2013 with the reenergized Phil Coke, a healthy Daniel Schlereth, and the emergence of Darin Downs, fellow bullpen lefties.

JOAQUIN BENOIT

GRADE: C+

2012 was definitely a step back for Joaquin Benoit. While he seemed to be on track in the first half of the season, his second half and postseason were very suspect. He ended up giving up 14 home runs, extraordinarily high for a shutdown 8th inning reliever. However, Benoit has been known to be streaky and considering the Tigers didn’t really have the ideal situation to use him, it really makes one think what he could’ve done if he had gotten out of his slump. However, 2013 will be a big season for Benoit as he could compete for a closing job.

PHIL COKE

GRADE: B+

Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it, Phil? Mr. Coke looked as though he played for the A’s with the intensity on the mound. What was looking to be a blasé season for Coke ended up to be a salvaged season and gave Coke the perfect ending for his season. Coke was a man on a mission in the postseason and despite the fact that he was the losing pitcher in Game 4, that will only fuel his competitive fire for 2013. If you think he’s in the running for the closer’s job, just remember his own words “Dude, you better bet your rear end…”

CASEY CROSBY

GRADE: C

A lot like Duane Below, there’s not much to break down here. Crosby’s performance for the Tigers in 2012 was adequate at best, as he was filling in for the injured Doug Fister. While he pitched well enough to stay in the rotation for a little while, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the mix for a spot in the rotation or a spot in the bullpen. I’m looking at him as a throw in for a possible trade this winter. But if you see him pitching for the Tigers in 2013, it means the Tigers are in trouble.

OCTAVIO DOTEL

GRADE: B+

What a pickup! Dotel proved to be exactly what Dave Dombrowski was looking for: a versatile right hander who could pitch up to three innings and could be a 6th, 7th, 8th, or even 9th inning guy. The move paid dividends for the Tigers as, I’m sure many will agree, we all breathed easier when he entered the game. He also provided experienced veteran leadership from being on the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He is a free agent this winter if the Tigers don’t pickup his option but considering the success he had this season, Dombrowski will keep Dotel in Detroit for 2013.

DARIN DOWNS

GRADE: B

This was the bullpen feel good story of 2012. Darin Downs had pitched for 10 years in the minor leagues, overcome a skull fracture, and finally reached the major leagues in early July. What appeared to be a short stint in the majors actually turned into a career year for the 27-year old. His inexperience probably kept him off the playoff roster but as long as he continues to perform to his 2012 abilities, he should make the team out of Spring Training. I’m rooting for this guy and I know Jim Leyland is too.

LUIS MARTE

GRADE: C

Luis Marte was a wild card in the bullpen in 2012. Leyland seemed to like going to him and he was effective in the beginning of the season but after being sent down to Toledo and with the struggles of the offense not helping the pitching staff, his numbers dwindled. However, I believe with work on his walk rate, he could turn out to be a weapon that every bonafide contender needs: a long man with starter’s stuff. He was originally a starter when he signed with the Tigers but due to the lack of openings in the rotation, that’s just not going to happen. We can only hope that he can be as effective as, say, Alexi Ogando or Tim Lincecum in the postseason. This should be an interesting, and maybe career defining spring for Marte.

LUKE PUTKONEN

GRADE: D+

This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Putkonen was originally a starter, like Marte, but couldn’t crack the rotation. However, when subjected to the bullpen, he was less than effective. Putkonen doesn’t belong in the majors and will probably be in Toledo coming out of Spring Training. However, much like Crosby, if you see him pitching, it means Detroit’s been hit with the injury bug.

JOSE VALVERDE

GRADE: F

Okay, maybe an F is a little harsh. But what we saw in the postseason was historical in the worst sense of the word. This man possessed an ERA over 30 and had a whip north of 4.5. While he isn’t the reason the Tigers lost the Series, I shudder to think what the city would’ve done if he had lost a game. As a closer, you HAVE to be effective. There’s no alternative, especially during the most important part of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. I think he’s hilarious and he’s a great teammate. But you don’t pay a closer to be a great guy. You don’t pay him to be funny. And you don’t pay him to be a great teammate. You pay him to get three outs. It’ll be interesting to see where he’ll be in 2013 because Mr. D has made it clear that he won’t be pitching in Detroit.

BRAYAN VILLAREAL

GRADE: C+

Ah, the other V man in the bullpen with bad mechanics. Brayan was actually one of the better pitchers for the Tigers in the first half of 2012. However, his bad mechanics and tendency to be wild derailed what looked to be a career year. What should get Tiger fans excited in 2013 is his arsenal. He gets the most out of his 6 foot frame with a mid to high 90s fastball and a dazzling slider. If he works on getting his pitches down and getting better control, the Tigers have a formidable right-handed duo in Villareal and Alburquerque.

OVERALL BULLPEN

GRADE: C-

As much as certain individuals shined and certain individuals failed, the bullpen as a whole, throughout the 2012 season, was one of the weak points of the team. Different faces took center stage at various points of the season but that’s not how its supposed to work. The reason the Giants were in contention from Day 1 was because they could count on their bullpen. The Tigers shouldn’t have to go to a hot hand; you should go to the matchup advantage, something that Leyland loves doing. But when various relievers don’t do their job, that makes Leyland’s job that much harder. I’m not sure what Dombrowski can do on his front to improve this area of the team. I think this one lies on the players. They all have to get better and if they do, the Tigers could see themselves back in Series without serious concern when the starter leaves. Otherwise, it’ll be another trying season of wasted quality starts, blown saves, and concern for Tiger fans everywhere.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

As much as guys like Bruce Rondon are our future, there’s always the possibility of them being traded or not being effective. On top of all that, Dombrowski has been known to spend money to fix major problems. But the question as to who the Tigers could add is a pressing one. Here’s a short list of relievers that the Tigers could add to bolster their bullpen.

MIKE ADAMS: RHP, TEXAS RANGERS

Adams has been a great 7th and 8th inning guy for Ron Washington and the Texas Rangers. However, with Neftali Feliz coming back from the rotation, Texas appear to be set in the bullpen. Feliz is ten years younger and throws almost 8 mph faster. He’d be a great fit in the Tiger bullpen and would bring stability back to the 7th, 8th, or even 9th innings.

RYAN MADSON: RHP, CINCINNATI REDS

Madson hasn’t played since 2011 but if the Tigers were to sign him, it wouldn’t be off the scrap heap. He was the predicted closer for the Reds going into the spring of 2012 before being lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Aroldis Chapman stepped into the closer’s role and simply dominated the National League in a historical season for the Reds. However, depending on whether Chapman will remain the closer or get moved to the rotation, Madson may or may not be going back to Cincinnati. He’s a lot like Adams and would be a great fit for the Tigers.

JASON GRILLI: RHP, PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Grilli is a former Tiger who has revitalized his career in Pittsburgh. While he doesn’t have closer’s stuff, he’s what you would call a “situational righty”. He’s the ideal pitcher for a manager like Jim Leyland, who’s tried to exploit situations with the wrong personnel. I’m sure Dombrowski would love to have him back on the team and he would love to play for the Tigers once again.

This concludes this week’s breakdown of the bullpen. We’ll tackle the starting rotation next week, the hitters the week after, and decide what looks to be the future for Jim Leyland and maybe upper management. It was a successful season for Detroit but this is only the beginning of a long winter for the Tigers.

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About Joe Barroso

Joe Barroso is the creator and editor of the Sporting Mitten blog as well as a contributor for the Farm Club blog. He began to pursue a career in journalism in 2010 while in high school. He created, produced, and wrote for "Irish Pride Sports Show" a weekly, sports feature show for Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, MI. He grew up in southeastern Michigan playing a variety of sports but was drawn to the game of baseball. Even with his short-lived playing career in high school gone, he still decided to pursue a career reporting happenings in baseball. You can reach him at jayambassador@gmail.com.
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