June 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Kurt Mensching

Tigers' closer problems easy to see, hard to fix

Replacing Jose Valverde as the Tigers' closer isn't as easy for a manager as it is for a fantasy team owner. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Who do Tigers fans want manager Jim Leyland to use as his closer?

Leyland’s profanity-laced speech about that topic last week may have been entertaining for some and frustrating for others.

Kicking the hornet’s nest may have seemed ill-advised, but it may just have been the move of a veteran leader. In a minute’s time, Leyland made himself a lighting rod, and deflected some of the invective off his closer, Jose Valverde.

And isn’t protecting his player part of his job?

If you get right down to it, Leyland did have a few good points if you read between the bleeps ... er, lines.

Reality baseball, not fantasy

It’s easy for fans to see a problem. Make no mistake, Valverde’s pitching is a problem.

But sitting at home on your couch, in front of your computer, maybe on your favorite bar stool, it’s easy to come up with a solution.

Maybe Joaquin Benoit should close. Maybe Phil Coke. Maybe Drew Smyly.

The manager has to look at the puzzle differently. If he pulls Valverde out of the ninth, what does he do with him? If he promotes Benoit to closer, what happens in the eighth?

What happens to the players who are happy where they are who have established their routines? Who can predict exactly when their skipper will call their name? Will they remain effective?

What happens in the clubhouse? Can all the personalities get along?

It’s easy to be a fan. State your allegiance, cheer and complain.

It’s hard to be the guy in charge. There are a lot more moving parts.

Know when to fold 'em

Bringing Valverde back into the organization in April made sense. He had a lot of success during his three seasons with the team, and he returned at a steep discount.

If Valverde could turn the clock back a few years, he’d earn his money and the Tigers would have their veteran closer. If not, well, there’d still be a problem for general manager Dave Dombrowski and Leyland to solve, but it wouldn’t be a costly mistake. The only mistake could come from sticking with Valverde too long.

Compare that with a potential trade for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who despite a declining fastball and strikeout rate is owed about $33 million the next 2˝ years, and potentially $13 million more on top of that.

It’s a lot easier to undo one mistake than the other.

It didn’t take long for warning signs to appear, though, and despite some positive outings the cracks in Valverde’s armor are being exploited. It probably is time to move on.

If fans can see the problems from their seats at the park or on their television sets, you can bet two successful baseball men like Dombrowski and Leyland see it, too.

It’s easy to see, hard to fix.

Something needs to be done. That much is certain.

But the Tigers shouldn’t be trying to find the fastest or easiest solution to their late-innings woes. They should be trying to find the one that helps win a World Series.

That takes time. Fortunately, the Tigers have a lot of that.

Maybe that’s what Leyland should have (bleep)-ing said.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com

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