COMMENTARY | Over the last couple weeks, Detroit Tigers fans have flooded message boards and talk radio with comments about how awful the team's bullpen is and manager Jim Leyland is to blame. They say Jose Valverde is only on the roster because Leyland demanded it and he is too stubborn to make a change at closer.
Because Leyland has to face the media every day and answer the tough questions after the team blows a lead, he has unfairly become the perceived cause of the issues. The true cause of the bullpen problems lie deep in the offices of Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the decision makers.
Here are four reasons why Dombrowski deserves the blame for the Tigers' bullpen woes:
No. 1: The team hasn't acquired the help
The Tigers have made a handful of big moves in the past couple years, but have yet to address the issue of fixing the bullpen. Big-money signings and trades have yielded Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, Torii Hunter, Omar Infante, Victor Martinez and Anibal Sanchez, none of which are relief pitchers.
After Valverde's meltdown in the playoffs last season, it was clear the Tigers needed bullpen help, but instead they re-signed Sanchez and addressed their need for a No. 2 hitter by signing Hunter. Those two deals cost more than $25 million a season and left the Tigers with no money to go out and sign a reliever they so desperately needed.
Part of the blame here is on Dombrowski, but it also falls in the lap of owner Mike Illitch, who has a love for big-name free agents and will occasionally break out the checkbook to acquire them regardless of what sort of strain it puts on the rest of the budget.
No. 2: Leyland doesn't determine the roster
The biggest reason you can't blame Leyland for the bullpen issues is he has no control over who is in his bullpen. Leyland might be able to give Dombrowski his opinion, but that doesn't mean he picks the arms that make it to the big leagues.
In an interview on June 14, Leyland went off on a reporter by asking him, "Who the (expletive) should I close with? Who do you want me to close with? Who the (expletive) do you want to be the closer? … I don't know what the (expletive) these people want."
He's right. There aren't a whole lot of choices for him when it comes time to finish games. He can turn the Joaquin Benoit, who has been amazing this season, but that just creates a problem of getting the ball to Benoit in the ninth inning.
Leyland can't be blamed for something he truly has no control over. Dombrowski and the rest of the front office haven't done a good enough job of putting talent on the roster for Leyland to choose from. Leyland can only put the men on the mound that Dombrowski sends to the roster.
No. 3: They've let talent go that could've helped them
Every team has examples of players it has let get away who have flourished with a change of scenery, but in the Tigers' case, three names come to mind who have excelled since leaving Detroit. Jason Grilli, Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney have all put together solid careers since leaving.
Lyon pitched for the Tigers in 2009 and in the years since, he has been a consistent reliever with an earned run average that hasn't topped 3.25 for an entire season and his WHIP has been manageable as well. He wouldn't be an option at closer, but he is certainly a reliable arm out of the pen.
Rodney finished second in the majors in saves last season and was fifth in Cy Young voting. Rodney has continued to have his ups and downs, but he has the ability to strike out batters when needed and has proved he can handle high-pressure situations.
Grilli currently leads the National League in saves with a WHIP under 1.00 and an ERA of 1.10. Over the last three seasons, Grilli has not had an ERA over 2.91 and has been a major part of the Pittsburgh Pirates' revival.
No. 4: The front office overvalues younger players
This is as much of a problem throughout the Tigers' entire minor league system, not just relievers. However, no facet of the game is more overvalued by Tigers' brass than their relief pitching. Dombrowski notoriously told reporters in 2011 that he had 10 major league-ready arms in his system that could help his club.
Exactly one of those farmhands is currently on the roster and producing at an acceptable rate -- and that is Drew Smyly. The rest of the homegrown pitching in Detroit has been good for brief stints, but for the most part hasn't been sub-par.
Dombrowksi has hyped a handful of young pitchers that were supposed to be the saviors of the bullpen and none of them have panned out. Al Albuquerque, Fu-Te Ni, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth and Brayan Villarreal immediately come to mind.
Many of these arms have been pushed to the majors way too soon and the results have been disastrous. The Tigers ruined Perry by drafting him in 2008 and less than a year later, making him a part of the opening-day roster in 2009.
The next savior in waiting is Bruce Rondon, who was a disaster earlier this season when he was called up. Since his demotion back to Triple-A Toledo, Rondon has put up incredible numbers, but the Tigers cannot afford to rely on a rookie reliever to fix all their bullpen woes. Plus, it's not fair to put that sort of pressure on a kid who was playing Single-A ball at the start of last season.
As we all saw with Perry, if they push Rondon too far too fast, the results could ruin his promising career ... and the Tigers' World Series dreams.
Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.
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