TigsTown Bullpen Preview

After a year in which the Tigers had a revolving door of closers, the organization hopes they have finally found the guy to anchor the group. But can lightning strike twice for the former castoff like it did the first time around?

There are certainly some positives about Todd Jones. For instance, despite aging, he's stayed relatively healthy throughout his career. He was also lights out in 2005 for the Marlins, saving almost as many games as he did in his career year for the Tigers back in 2000. He'll also provide some veteran leadership in a bullpen that is still relatively young.

But there are obvious concerns with Jones; namely his age and his incredible inconsistency over the years. He's 38 years old, and often pitchers begin to see their arms break down and lose velocity as they reach their mid-to-late 30's. And then there's the issue of his effectiveness - after all, just one year ago, Jones was headed to spring training as a non-roster invitee hoping to win a middle relief job with Florida. This predicament was based in no small part because of his prior season's performances, where he bounced around from club to club without being able to find a home.

The Tigers are hopeful that their bullpen won't be a problem, but for that to happen, the Tigers need to hope Jones' 38-year old arm can hold up and be effective; a similar situation to what the Tigers banked on last year with Troy Percival, and we all know how that turned out.

But possibly the bigger problem is that if Jones goes down, the Tigers don't have Ugueth Urbina or Kyle Farnsworth waiting to step up. Instead the Tigers would turn to Fernando Rodney, the Tigers' closer at the end of '05, who obviously didn't do enough to convince the team he could handle the job full-time. Rodney has a good fastball and a very good change-up, which will hopefully allow him to thrive as a setup man.

The lone constant of the group is Jamie Walker, who has been remarkably solid for the team over the past few years. As a lefty setup man, he's one of the most consistent in the business.

After those three, the Tigers will rely on a group of youngsters and non-roster invites to grab the final three (or four) spots. Franklyn German, Chris Spurling, Roman Colon and Wilfredo Ledezma are the top candidates from within, while Matt Mantei is the most intriguing name among the non-roster invites. If manager Jim Leyland is serious about keeping two left-handers, Bobby Seay will also jump up on the list as a potential option.

The concern here of course is that while the Tigers have a number of younger options, this group shouldn't be confused with the impressive group the Minnesota Twins have emerging from their 'pen. Spurling and German haven't been overwhelming despite plenty of opportunities, and Ledezma and his over-six ERA from last year has to be labeled as a major disappointment. Mantei has so much talent, but has never been able to stay healthy, making it unlikely he'll be able to do so here. So, even if he impresses in spring training and heads north with the club, it's unlikely he'd be able to stick for the entirety of the season.

That also leaves out wild cards like Joel Zumaya, who the Tigers may elect to keep in Detroit to develop rather than allow him to get more seasoning in AAA. Kevin Whelan only has a handful of professional innings, but appears to be a fast mover who could be in Detroit sometime this season.

All this together means a group that has plenty of potential, but if things don't go right and if the injury bug bites, things could get ugly.

Altogether, if Jim Leyland does indeed follow through on his plan to carry seven relievers, a good number of those spots are already secured. Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney and Jamie Walker will be the three go-to guys in the back end, and are virtually assured a spot. Roman Colon is also another with a very good shot at securing a spot, barring him beating out Justin Verlander and Zumaya for the final spot in the rotation. That will leave three spots, two of which will go to some combination of German, Spurling, Mantei and Zumaya, and the final to a second left hander; Ledezma, Seay or Hector Mercado.

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