San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean has openly stated that the 2004 move of Merkin Valdez into the bullpen and into the majors was an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. 2 appearances and a 27 ERA later, Valdez returned to the minors. The shockwaves of that move still reverberate.
Valdez followed up what turned out to be a rather disastrous 2004 season with a solid and stueady 2005 in the Eastern League mostly as a starter, with a 3.53 ERA. The expectations for 2006 were high, and they weren't just expectations, they were demands. Then-Giants manager and fellow Dominican Felipe Alou told Valdez in Spring Training that ‘the kid stuff is over,' and the Giants let Valdez close a bit in Spring Training, and Valdez responded with ‘electric' stuff. The Giants considered letting him remain in the majors as a reliever, but then put him back in Triple-A Fresno, but in the bullpen rather than the rotation.
That's where the encouragement ended. Valdez had a solid start to the season, posting a 2.79 ERA through 9 appearances in April, but his season quickly fell apart. Through May, June and July, Valdez's ERA shot up. He became very hittable. He walked 12 in 10 innings of work in May. In June, the Fresno closer picked up only his 5th save of the season. He would not get another in the season.
A lot of people think that Valdez has what they consider ‘closer stuff.' He has a mid-90's fastball, and has improved his changeup to where it is a good pitch. Despite some misconceptions, he has a very good slider that has been inconsistent because he has not been able to get a consistent motion for it. But despite ‘closer stuff,' he has never looked comfortable in relief. It had been indicated the Giants came into 2006 looking at him as a starter, but his spring performance must have prompted the move once again. And once again, he struggled.
Valdez did make three starts at the end of the year, although he didn't go more than three innings in any start. He had a 3.12 ERA in those three starts (compared to a 5.80 ERA overall), but the final one ended in the other problem that has plagued Valdez.
Valdez injured his elbow, ending his chances to appear in the majors in 2006 as a September callup. The injury has resulted in Valdez having Tommy John surgery, and he will miss 2007. This is after shoulder and leg problems have plagued him throughout his career.
The injury may be the icing on the cake for Valdez to make a comeback (at least through the Giants). 2006 was Valdez's final option year. While that won't make a difference in 2007, as he'll spend the entire year on the disabled list, it makes decisions in 2008 tough. The Giants won't be able to option him to the minors, and he won't have any minor league time for rehab since he should recover over the offseason. Therefore, the only time Valdez will have to prove he can be a major leaguer is in winter ball and spring training.Truthfully, Valdez's chances to make it as a starter are probably over. With the TJ surgery, his arm may come back, but the health issues have made it clear he's not durable enough. Valdez also appears to not be able to handle relief roles well enough to be a closer, whether it be mentally or in his ‘stuff.' The only reason Valdez ranks so high in this list is the chance that his arm strength comes back after the surgery, and he may find a way to be a good power setup man. But that is the last in an ever-decreasing chance for Valdez to find a way to be a Giant.
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