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Trying Rondon was fine, but Tigers needed a better backup plan

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

Teams find closers.

The Giants found one last year, and they won the World Series. The Tigers found one last October and got to the World Series (and the bullpen wasn't why they lost).

The White Sox found one and spent most of the season in first place.

Teams find closers. The Tigers aren't doomed simply because Bruce Rondon wasn't up for the job.

But why in the world did they put themselves in this position?

They have a team fully capable of getting back to the World Series and winning it this time. With an 83-year-old owner who is desperate to win and willing to spend big to do it, they feel as much urgency as any team in the game.

And they went into spring training hoping that a 22-year-old kid with no big-league experience and only nine appearances above Double-A would prove ready to close for a contender.

With no real backup plan.

How does that make any sense?

The Tigers can spin it any way they want now. They can tell you they have plenty of pitchers capable of closing games, from Phil Coke (who did it last October) to Octavio Dotel (who has 109 career saves, more than all but 11 pitchers currently employed by big-league teams) to Joaquin Benoit (who has a 151 ERA+ over the last three seasons) to Al Alburquerque (who some in the organization would love to see get the opportunity).

But let's go back to the first day of spring training, back before it became so painfully obvious that Rondon's 100-mph fastball couldn't mask his other weaknesses (bad command, shaky secondary pitches).

Tigers manager Jim Leyland made a couple of things clear that day.

One, he wants a full-time closer.

Two, he doesn't trust any of those other pitchers with the job.

"I've got several guys who can close a game, or two games," Leyland said that day. "I'm not sure I've got guys who can be a pure closer."

Maybe he'll find out one of those other guys can be trusted. Maybe Rondon will go to Triple-A Toledo and come back in a few weeks or months looking like a major leaguer (which he didn't this spring).

Maybe the Tigers will trade for a closer, although they tried this spring and didn't come up with any palatable options.

It might all work out. The Tigers might find a closer.

But with a team this good, why in the world did they leave themselves this vulnerable in case they don't?

 
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