January 19th, 2010

Tigers fifth starter Phil Coke?

It’s starting to sound more like a possibility now.

One of the questions that came up during the conference call announcing the Jose Valverde deal is how the rest of what was already shaping up to be a deep Tigers bullpen will slot with a closer now on board. If Zumaya’s healthy, Dave Dombrowski pointed out, he has a history as a setup man. Ryan Perry and Zach Miner slot in for the middle innings, and Dombrowski obviously likes the depth with their left-handers.

Which brought him to Coke.

“I think he’ll get the ball with a change to lengthen out in the spring,” Dombrowski said, “and get a chance to compete for the fifth spot.”

With that, another names enters the rotation competition with Armando Galarraga, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Eddie Bonine. With the Tigers sounding increasingly confident that Jeremy Bonderman will take the fourth spot in the rotation, it’s looking like a handful of pitchers will compete for one rotation spot.

That should pretty much be the field, because the pitching staff looks pretty much set.

“If we did [make another signing], it would not be a pitcher,” Dombrowski said. “We feel very comfortable with our pitching right now. We have four starters who we think are set.”

Tigers formally announce Valverde deal

The Tigers formally announced their signing of All-Star closer Jose Valverde on Tuesday to a two-year, $14 million contract with a club option for 2012.

Valverde was scheduled to be introduced on a conference call Tuesday morning.

A National League saves leader in two of the past three seasons, Valverde’s 116 saves over the last three years tie him for fourth in the Majors in that span with Jonathan Papelbon, trailing just Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero. The 31-year-old right-hander had 25 saves and 45 games finished last year, but his supporting numbers were basically as strong as usual. He scattered 40 hits over 54 innings, struck out 56 and allowed just five home runs as part of a 2.33 ERA.

The move bolsters a Tigers bullpen that has stockpiled young talent over the past few years, led by Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry, but lacked a proven option for the ninth inning after losing Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon to free agency. Zumaya, Perry, Bobby Seay and others will now set up for one of the most vaunted closers the Tigers have had in several years.

Valverde has never pitched in the American League. He spent his first five seasons with the Diamondbacks before he was traded to Houston after the 2007 season. His save totals last year suffered in part with the Astros’ slow start, but he went 19-for-19 in saves from July on. In the process, he held opponents to a .206 batting average and .580 OPS while posting a 1.67 ERA.

Ironically, the Tigers were responsible for Valverde’s last blown save. Brandon Inge’s ninth-inning homer off him June 28 at Minute Maid Park sent Detroit to a 4-3 victory.

By signing the Type A free agent, the Tigers give up their first-round pick in this summer’s First-Year Player Draft, the 19th overall selection, to the Astros. It would mark the first time since 1991, after the Tigers signed Rob Deer, that Detroit has given up its first-round Draft pick. However, the Tigers have two compensation picks coming at the end of the first round for losing relievers Rodney and Lyon.

Lyon signed a three-year, $15 million with the Astros last month, while Rodney agreed to a two-year, $11 million contract with the Angels on Christmas Eve. In essence, Detroit swapped Lyon for Valverde with Houston, with the Astros getting a first-round Draft pick and the Tigers getting a sandwich pick.

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