Tigers weigh closer options if Justin Wilson is dealt
Kansas City, Mo. — His reluctance to get into the issue was understandable. There would be nothing gained by commenting on a hypothetical situation, regardless of its likelihood of coming to pass.
Manager Brad Ausmus was asked before Tuesday’s game if he’d given any thought to who might close games in the event Justin Wilson is traded?
“Why worry about something that may or may not happen?” he said. “Worry about it if it happens.”
He paused for a second, then added this: “I understand you have to ask the question, but it’s not like there are a bunch of choices. I would not have to spend hours researching this. We only have a certain number of players here.
“I think we could figure it out in relatively short order.”
The options are indeed limited, and perhaps the most attractive would be to mix and match relievers from the seventh through the ninth depending on situation and match-ups. But Ausmus has expressed opposition to a closer-by-committee plan in the past, so it seems feasible to assume a closer would be appointed should Wilson be traded.
Here is a list of potential candidates:
■Bruce Rondon. Although general manager Al Avila made it clear a couple of weeks ago that Rondon was no longer considered the organization’s closer of the future, he might be best suited to fill the role on an interim basis the rest of this season.
His stuff — upper-90s fastball and a vastly improved slider — still fits the role. Since his return at the end of June, he has struck out 10 of 27 batters in 6 2/3 innings, with opponents hitting .227 against him.
The Tigers long envisioned this role for him. But between his arm injuries and his personal issues, it’s been a long series of encouraging stretches and stumbles. It might behoove the Tigers to plug him into the role one last time and see if it finally clicks for him.
■Joe Jimenez. There is nothing left for him to prove at the Triple-A level. Since coming back from a back injury, he’s dominated at Toledo (four runs allowed in 19 2/3 innings, with 30 strikeouts and 10 walks).
His first big-league audition went poorly this season. His secondary pitches — slider and change-up — weren’t developed sufficiently. And he’d never had to worry much about where he put his upper-90s fastball. At the big-league level, he couldn’t get away with center-cut fastballs, even at 98-99 mph.
Reports indicate that he has been hitting his spots and throwing his secondary pitches with more conviction.
His stuff is elite. What he needs is an extended run at this level, one in which he knows he won’t be shipped out after a couple of bad outings.
■Shane Greene. He certainly has the mentality for the job. In terms of temperament and fearlessness, he wouldn’t be intimidated. And, with a mid-90s fastball and wipe-out slider, his stuff would play in a closer’s role.
But there are some issues that would give pause. He walks too many hitters, for one — 13-percent walk rate. He also doesn’t get as many swings and misses as one might think (8.3 percent, according to FanGraphs).
But opponents are hitting just .191 against him and in the last two years he’s allowed only five of 56 inherited runners to score.
Actually, the arguments above better state a case for keeping him as a set-up man.
■Alex Wilson. He absolutely has the mentality for the role. There isn’t a more fierce competitor in the Tigers’ bullpen. And, when right, his cutter, devastating against right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters, would play.
The worry, though, is that he’s a pitch-to-contact guy. His swing and miss rate is just 7.6 percent. Although he doesn’t get hit hard very often, his margin for error as a closer would be smaller than generally preferred.
■Edward Mujica. This is a long-shot candidate, for sure. But the 10-year veteran saved 37 games for the Cardinals in 2013. It’s been a struggle for him since, but he’s righted himself at Toledo. He has eight saves, with a 33-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 40 innings. His WHIP is 0.95.