November 27, 2012 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Tigers need a closer, but not one as expensive as Rafael Soriano

Though tempting, the price for Scott Boras' client Rafael Soriano may be too steep for the Tigers. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Detroit — We've seen this before, Scott Boras talking the Tigers into one of his clients.

Just don't expect Rafael Soriano to be the latest.

There are reports now making the rounds that Boras and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch chatted recently, specifically about Soriano, the right-hander who filled in so brilliantly as the Yankees closer in Mariano Rivera's absence this past season that he opted out of the last year of his deal - to instead pursue a deal somewhere in the four-year, $60 million, pipe-dream range.

The Tigers have a long history, of course, with Boras, the slick mega-agent who's brought such clients as Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Damon and, most recently, Prince Fielder to Detroit.

Boras has known that when negotiations have slowed, he can pick up the phone, call Ilitch and be guaranteed a serious and intrigued listener on the other end of the line.

But in this case, it'd be quite stunning if the Tigers bit on Soriano, 32, even though his numbers over his 11-year career are stunning: 2.78 ERA, 1.046 WHIP, 527 strikeouts in 502 innings. Well, as stunning as any Boras-Tigers transaction can be, anyway.

For starters, it's just not great business paying big bucks and committing big years to closers. Outside the game's truly elite - like Rivera, and maybe nobody else - closers tend to typically be up-down-creatures, so lengthy financial commitments can burn ballclubs.

Buyer beware

Just ask the Marlins, and Heath Bell - who now, of course, is the Diamondbacks problem.

And even when closers are pretty good, their big deals still tend to be burdens on teams. The Mets (Francisco Rodriguez) and Reds (Francisco Cordero) learned that lesson.

Soriano, no question, is the best closer on the free-agent market, and the Tigers happen to be closer-less at the moment. They decided to part company with Jose Valverde, who, by the way, saved 110 games over the last three years — while being paid $23 million, less than half what Soriano wants.

But the Tigers have a young flame-thrower waiting in the wings, in right-hander Bruce Rondon, who they see as the closer of the future, potentially as soon as Opening Day 2013.

That, of course, might be a stretch, as Rondon has yet to throw one of his 100-mph fastballs in the major leagues. But the Tigers clearly think he'll be doing that job, sooner rather than later.

So the belief here is they think much more short-term for a closer, and there certainly are options available, including right-handers Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria, two guys coming off Tommy John surgery who might be forced to take a short-term deal in order to prove they're worth a more lucrative contract elsewhere down the road.

Madson apparently is close to a deal with the Angels, but Soria doesn't appear close with anyone. Soria also knows the American League Central, having closed for years with the Royals.

Closer by committee

The Tigers could give Rodriguez, or K-Rod, a chance to reestablish himself on a short deal, or maybe they make a trade, for, say, J.J. Putz, a Michigan native with the Diamondbacks. The two teams have been rumored to have discussed outfielder Justin Upton; maybe Putz could be a piece to that puzzle.

If nothing along those lines works out, the Tigers have internal options not named Rondon, too - like Octavio Dotel, or even Al Alburquerque, though Joaquin Benoit probably will stay put in the setup role.

Maybe Tigers manager Jim Leyland could even play it by committee, based on matchups — which worked so well in this past postseason — at least early in the season, until someone wins the job. The A's went with the hot hand this year; it was rookie Ryan Cook in the first half, Grant Balfour in the second, and that worked out quite well.

Who knows? The Tigers' someone who seizes the gig might just be Rondon, who's been talked up by general manager Dave Dombrowski exponentially more than anybody else this offseason.

However it shakes out, it's difficult to envision Soriano — who in 2010 with the Rays did combine with Benoit to form one of the deadliest eight inning-ninth inning combinations in recent memory — being the Tigers' man. That is, unless, of course, the price comes way, way down.

With Boras, it rarely does. He'll wait for a spring-training injury if he has to.

Money matters to the Tigers, even if it doesn't always seem that way. They're not going to issue a blank check to keep starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, for instance; outfielder Josh Hamilton is not going to be a Tiger.

But this is a factor, too: Signing Soriano, who received and turned down a qualifying offer from the Yankees, would cost the Tigers a first-round draft pick. For a team that eventually needs to find its future shortstop, forfeiting a fourth consecutive first-round pick might not be the wisest plan.

They lost picks the last three drafts for signing Valverde, Victor Martinez and Fielder. That was another plus to the Torii Hunter signing: He wasn't issued a qualifying offer by the Angels — who were afraid he'd accept it — to the Tigers got to keep their first-rounder.

Now, will they keep to their original plan at closer - Rondon, 21, for the long-term, and maybe a short-term solution in the interim?

It'd be absolutely stunning if they veer off that plan to bring in Soriano, who's seeking a record deal for closers (the Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon four years and $50 million last offseason).

Then again, it simply can't be said enough: With Boras, the Tigers and Ilitch — who's desperate to win that World Series ring and, at 83, knows time isn't on his side — you never can say never.

tpaul@detnews.com

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