The Tigers held the closer job open for Bruce Rondon.
It's still open.
Rondon, a rookie right-hander who can throw 100 mph but can't always throw strikes or get hitters out, was optioned to Triple-A Toledo Thursday morning, leaving one of baseball's best teams without a true closer.
"We felt he could benefit from more development time," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters in Lakeland, Fla.
The Tigers are expected to go with a closer by committee to open the season. Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque are all possibilities to get save opportunities, but none of those pitchers profiles as a full-time closer.
In 12 1/3 innings this spring, Rondon walked nine and allowed 17 hits. The Tigers realized early on that he might not be ready, and midway through spring training they searched the trade market hard for someone who could close. But closers are difficult to trade for in the spring, and the Tigers seemed unable to find one they liked (at least not at a price they were willing to pay).
Two closers remain available on the free-agent market -- Jose Valverde and Francisco Rodriguez -- but the Tigers don't appear to be interested in either one.
Valverde closed for the Tigers the last three years, but he had a poor 2012 season and was so bad in the playoffs that manager Jim Leyland had to remove him from the job. Coke became the de-facto closer for the rest of the postseason, helping the Tigers to the World Series, but the team never believed he could handle the job on full-time.
While it's not unheard of for a team to begin the season without a set closer, but that was never the Tigers' plan (at least not until Rondon failed this spring, and they were forced into it). Leyland said when spring training began that he much prefers having a set closer.
"Some people don't believe in closers, but Jim Leyland does," Leyland said in the middle of February.
The idea back then was that Rondon would prove this spring that he could handle the job. He didn't.
So the Tigers will open the season without a true closer.