It’s a smart move. It’s a backup plan. It’s low risk and high upside.
Everyone gets all that. Signing Jose Valverde makes a lot of logical sense. It’s also very big of the Tigers to admit they made a mistake by giving the keys to the closer’s position to a guy who didn’t even make the team out of Spring Training.
But Jose Valverde can’t come back to be the Tigers’ closer. I mean, it’s physically possible. He can pitch well in AAA and the Tigers’ closer-by-committee deal could not work. I just don’t believe he can mentally handle being the closer to a point where he’s effective. Not after last year.
If this was somewhere else, Kansas City or Seattle or Houston, he would have a chance. But the nation remembers him in a Tigers uniform, blowing a series-clinching save against Oakland, then blowing another one against the Yankees.
Last season we watched a car slowly careen off the road, flip over the guard rail and freefall down a cliff.
It started on Opening Day. Carrying a 51-game save streak with him, Valverde came in against the Red Sox and promptly gave up a 2-0 lead.
He clawed his way to 35 saves, leaving five more on the table during the regular season. In the postseason, one blown save turned into two.
As the crowd in the O.co Coliseum rejoiced in the fact there would be at least one more day of baseball in Oakland, one more chance to beat the odds, one more chance to do it in the hardest way possible because when you’re the Athletics that’s how things have to be done, Jose Valverde stood on the mound a beaten man. Whether he had the physical attributes didn’t matter any more. His psyche was blown.
After another chance — his final chance — in New York, Valverde could only stand there as Jim Leyland sauntered to the mound, Yankee Stadium still bellowing from every nook. He lasted just 2/3 of an inning and gave up four earned runs. The Tigers would eventually win the game, but it was hard to watch the scene and not think the damage done to him was irreversible.
Cooler heads would eventually conclude that he was one year removed from a perfect season. That some team would take a shot on a guy with the hope that he could be an at lest serviceable reliever. Yet, 30 other general managers and presidents witnessed what happened. Every single one them saw a project that couldn’t be fixed.
I don’t care how much weight he’s lost or how dedicated he’s been in the offseason.
For Jose Valverde to step back on the mound at Comerica Park wearing the Old English ‘D’ requires him to face the demons that basically ended his career.
These kinds of things usually don’t end well. Chuck Knoblach eventually wasn’t able to throw to first. Mickey Sasser couldn’t lob a ball back to his pitcher. That’s the type of thing what we’re talking about here. Valverde would have to step to the mound knowing that 40,000 people had inched to the edge of their seats, expecting him to blow the save. ‘He’s going to blow this’. He’ll be forced to think about Oakland and New York and that game against the Red Sox on Opening Day. Like lobbing a ball back to a pitcher, the more you think about it, the less effective you are.
But the beautiful thing about being a pitcher is you can be lucky. Hitters swing at bad pitches. They hit balls extremely hard and extremely right to your shortstop. Bats break. Home runs glide foul. If Valverde can get lucky enough, he may be able to build himself up for one more run. At least until he blows another save.