With the departure of right-handers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon via free agency, the Detroit Tigers were left in a position of relying on young, unproven arms at the end of games in 2010. That all changes with the signing for Valverde to a two-year contract with a club option for a third season, as now the Tigers have a legitimate closer for the ninth inning.
"In our situation, we think Jose is one of the premier closers in the game," said general manager Dave Dombrowski Tuesday morning. "We are talking about someone who we think is a proven, established closer. We just felt like this was a chance to solidify our back end with a premium individual."
Valverde joins the Tigers after a year in which he saved 25 games and posted a 2.33 ERA for the Astros. Twice before, Valverde has posted seasons of 40-plus saves, notching 44 in 2008, and a league leading 47 with Arizona in 2007.
The 30-year old closer will be experiencing the American League for the first time in seven-year career in 2010; an experience that can be daunting for pitchers not used to the typically more potent lineups of the AL.
"It doesn't matter to me," said Valverde. "When you're the closer, you never see the pitcher anyway. For me, I think it's the same baseball. It doesn't matter."
Valverde acknowledged his close friendship with former Tiger closer Fernando Rodney, but indicated Rodney had simply told him, "You will be happy over there. Everybody is good."
Since Valverde had been designated a Type A free agent and offered arbitration by the Astros, the Tigers are now forced to relinquish their first round pick in the June first-year player draft.
"One of the things we wrestled about was giving up our number one pick," said Dombrowski. "By no means would we have wanted to do that for just one year. Being in a position where he joins us for a couple of years, and picking up a couple of sandwich choices, we feel we can still be aggressive with those sandwich choices."
Long rumored to be in the midst of a budget crisis and a fire sale, the Tigers' signing of Valverde seems to speak otherwise. When asked about the Tigers reported unwillingness to go multiple years to retain either Rodney or Lyon, Dombrowski noted "We actually did offer Brandon Lyon a two-year deal at that time, but did not feel comfortable going a third year."
With the closer role filled and a plethora of candidates for both the starting rotation and the bullpen, the Tigers pitching staff appears to be nearing completion for this season.
"I don't know if we will do anything, but if we did, it will not be a pitcher," said Dombrowski when questioned about any additional moves that may be on the horizon. "We feel very comfortable with where our pitching is right now. We're in a position where if we were to make a move, it would be from the offensive perspective."
As spring training nears, and anticipation builds for the 2010 season, the fans aren't the only ones excited.
"I'm so excited right now," said a happy Valverde. "All the time when I played in the minor leagues, I always wanted to play for the Tigers."