Tigers need a real deal closer

Detroit Tigers manager says team is better off with dominant closer

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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LAKELAND, Fla. - Detroit Tigers' fans might be in denial on sports-talk radio, but not manager Jim Leyland.

In no way is Leyland in panic mode about his cloudy closer situation thus far, but he understands the importance of a dominant closer.

We know most experts out there have the Tigers as the odds-on favorite this coming season. But, not so fast.

While there are a lot of talented arms in the bullpen, the Tigers don't have a dominant closer. Wait, they don't have a proven closer. Hold up, they don't have a closer. Period. And you know what that means: no closer = no title.

Leyland, an old-school baseball man, laughs at experts who say the closer role is overrated and you can put anybody out there to get the final out.

"I'm not laughing at anybody,'' Leyland said at Joker Marchant Stadium. "I'm laughing at the fact, and it doesn't make me right."

It's Jim Leyland's personal opinion that if you have a dominant closer, without question, you're better off than if you have to go by committee.

Yet, here were the Tigers trying to give the job to Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old, hard-throwing right-handed rookie.

Granted, Rondon was impressive in the minors last season, but he has been hit hard in the spring so far.

The Tigers can't do it, not with this team ready to win it all. It would be like finally buying that Porsche and not getting full insurance coverage. It would be a disaster waiting to happen.

It's hard not to look at the championships the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox recently won and honestly believe they would have been possible without Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon.
A lot of things have changed in baseball. But having that guy to get those final three outings with the championship on the line hasn't.

It's hard to find many World Series squads that won using bullpen by committee.

"The Cardinals did it,'' said Tigers starter Max Scherzer, but in the end, Jason Motte was ultimate the closer. "They kind of did a committee situation. You just want a good bullpen as a whole."

Still, the Tigers aren't thrilled about the closer role. That's why a report surfaced Tuesday that the Tigers are looking to trade for a closer, almost an impossible task via trade. And to be fair, even championship teams aren't always A-1 top to bottom.

"There are no perfect teams," Leyland said. "There are other teams, no matter how good they are, you can find a flaw somewhere. That's just the way it is."

It's not just about a big arm, hard stuff. It takes more than that to be a closer.

"Nobody ever knows if the guy has the mentality," Leyland said. "That's the big difference with a closer. I have seven, eight guys out there (in the clubhouse) that got closer stuff. But can they get the last three outs? Can they handle the next day when they blow one? Can they handle the talk shows on their ass when blow one? Can they handle the writers? Can they handle all that stuff, I don't know. That's the difference."

The Tigers -- looking for their first World Series title since 1984 -- are playing a dangerous game to this point. They have spent big money to field a team that can compete for the championship. But this winter, despite knowing they didn't have that closer in hand -- after parting with Jose Valverde -- the Tigers played cheap and failed to secure the missing piece.

It was a no-brainer. The Tigers should have simply cut the check and paid Rafael Soriano. He signed with Washington for $28 million after saving 42 games in Da Bronx in place of the injured Rivera.

"We don't have Mariano is his prime walking around this clubhouse," Leyland admitted.

On the surface, ace Justin Verlander doesn't seem to be too concerned. JV agrees with Scherzer said he believes there are plenty of arms in the bullpen to get job done.

Surprisingly, the dominant starter doesn't buy into the dominant closer theory.

"We can definitely win without that,'' Verlander said. ``I hope we have one. But we can definitely win without out."

Sounds good, but highly unlikely. History says so.

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