Tigers sign Valverde to minor-league contract
The Tigers are going to take a look at former closer Jose Valverde.
After an offseason of back-and-forth and a season-opening closer by committee, the Tigers announced Thursday they have agreed to terms with Valverde on a minor-league contract that includes an opt-out clause if he isn’t in the big leagues by May 5.
Though the contract doesn’t include a Major League side, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said he has discussed “parameters” of a big-league deal with Valverde’s agent, Scott Boras.
Valverde saved 110 games over three seasons for the Tigers, including a franchise-record 49 in as many opportunities in 2011. He racked up 35 saves for Detroit last year, but lost his closer job after back-to-back blown saves in the postseason — first in Game 4 of the AL Division Series at Oakland, then again in the opener of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium.
Dombrowski said at season’s end that the Tigers would not re-sign him, and manager Jim Leyland stated during Spring Training that they had nothing going on at that time. Dombrowski said the two sides stayed in touch, but that a deal didn’t come together until Thursday morning, when Valverde agreed to come in on a minor league contract with no big league commitment.
“Scott has talked extensively to me throughout the last couple months,” Dombrowski said, “but we just kind of thought it would be a mutual situation, with what Papa Grande has done for the organization in the past, that we were willing very much to take a look at him and see what happens.”
That said, Dombrowski added, they’re not just simply doing this as a favor to Valverde.
“We’re doing it to have the best team we possibly can as time goes on,” Dombrowski said. “If this makes us the best team, then, great. And if it doesn’t, then we don’t have any commitments.”
Valverde will report to the team’s extended Spring Training program in Lakeland, Fla., and throw to hitters before joining Triple-A Toledo after that.
Valverde has been throwing near his home in the Dominican Republic, where the Tigers had a scout watch him throw a bullpen session on Saturday. Boras told MLB.com last week that Valverde was throwing 93-94 mph, and Dombrowski said Thursday that Valverde was throwing in the low to mid-90s.
“We’re not looking to prolong this,” Dombrowski said. “It’s a situation where he can either pitch and come back and help us here or we probably end that relationship at that time.”
The deal was announced a day after the Twins rallied for two runs in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke to beat the Tigers at Target Field.
While Dombrowski said he got a text from an agent for another free-agent reliever within a minute after that game ended, he indicated the Valverde deal came together Thursday morning after Valverde agreed to take a minor league deal with no Major League guarantees.
“It’s a situation where he really has never been willing to take this scenario, to say, ‘OK, let him show you that he can do the job for you. We think he’s throwing the ball better,’” Dombrowski said. “OK, let’s see what it is.”