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What To Do With Urbina?

Wilfredo Ledezma was sent to Toledo this week after ten consecutive bad starts, a move any fool could have predicted. The Tigers didn’t call up anyone to replace him because they won’t need a fifth starter until the 18th — who knows, the fifth starter that day could yet be Ledezma — though my money is on hulking former Oriole Sean Douglass, he of the 3.00 ERA and 56/19 K/BB at Toledo. Douglass’ major-league track record indicates that he probably won’t be a long-term answer, but he could have a few good months.

Instead of calling up a pitcher, the Tigers activated Troy Percival off the disabled list. Percival, apparently recovered from a “partial tear of his right flexor pronator muscle mass”, aka hurt forearm muscle, seemed to find his stride right before his injury, and is on pace to throw the 45 reasonably effective innings we all expected and knew wouldn’t be worth the dough the Tigers signed for him last winter for $12 million. The happy conundrum is that Ugueth Urbina is pitching brilliantly in Percival’s closer slot.

I’m not much of a believer in the magic of closers — I scoffed this week when on the road somewhere, I heard a radio announcer say that most relief pitchers rely on catchers to help them understand the game when they’re put in, except for closers, who just know how to get outs. I believe that there are some great relief pitchers in the major-leagues, and that sometimes it makes sense to put them in when you have a lead of three or fewer runs, but that mostly you want to have your best relievers in when the game is on the line. By that logic, it doesn’t matter that the Tigers have two proven closers (not to mention minor-league closer Franklyn German), only that they have two good (though not great) relievers to send to the mound in tough situations.

But as much as it helps the Tigers to have a deeper bullpen, there are a lot of teams who believe that relievers aren’t interchangeable, that there is mystical and possibly moral worthiness indicated by the ability to get saves, never mind that saves were invented in 1960 and that they’re the pitching equivalent of the now-defunct GWRBI. The Tigers have been rumored to be considering trading Urbina for some proven-closer swag ever since Percival came aboard. Should they trade him now that so many teams have injured or ineffective closers (Hawkins, Benitez, Dotel, etc.) and that Percival is, for the time being, back to a reasonable facsimile of health?

Yes. The Tigers sit, as of this writing, at 26-29. That’s a wonderful improvement over 2003, and a good bet to improve on last year as well, but they’re not contenders. They’re not going to beat the White Sox and Twins to capture the division, or one of those teams plus most of Anaheim, Texas, Baltimore, Boston, and New York to capture the Wild Card. They’re just not good enough. A few of the pieces are in place — Guillen, Inge, Bonderman, and Maroth, maybe Ordonez, Shelton, and German — but this is not a team that’s within even a few years of 90 wins. It needs to ruthlessly identify who can be part of the next winning Tiger team and get prospects for whoever will not while still maintaining a competitive major-league product. Two closers are not a necessary part of remaining competitive. Percival is overpaid and untradeable; Urbina makes $4 million this year and is a free agent to-be. The Mets need him, the Cubs need him, the Giants need him. Let them pay for him.

No. The Tigers sit, as of this writing, at 26-29. That’s only 7 games out of the wild card with a lot of time to go, and though they’re double-digits behind the White Sox, there’s no way the Southsiders will stay this hot. Guillen has been hurt and Ordonez will come back at some point. It’s way too early to throw in the towel on a promising team. Moreover, what kind of message does it give to the fans? “Sure we’re better than we have been, and we want you to come to the park, but this isn’t yet a real team. But please care about it anyways.” Isn’t avoiding that sort of death knell more important than a slugging young outfielder?

I sure don’t know. Your thoughts?

No trade. Even if we’re already looking ahead to next year, we need to stay vaguely in the race at least up til the last few weeks to project as a serious offseason player. Do you want another offseason of snubs and gross overpayments?

Posted by Carl on June 7th, 2005 at 4:31 pm

I would entertain trade offers only because the Tigers have holes to still fill. If Urbina can bring them something I say go for it.

I do like the idea of having both him and Percival for the entire season, and if Percival gets hurt again, you have that insurance.

Posted by Leelanau Sports Guy on June 7th, 2005 at 4:36 pm

I agree, in a few short weeks the Tigers will probably be running on fumes. I like Urbina and am disappointed in Percival, yet, I highly doubt that the Tigers will be able to re-sign Urbina even if they thought they could afford to. He abiolutely can’t be just set free to go on the open market, they need to get something or him. Matt Murton would be incredible compensation. I also think the Tigers should consider drawing from the Cubs considerable well of starting pitching. Richard Hill, for example?

Posted by steve on June 8th, 2005 at 2:26 pm

Like you guys said, it’s a tough one. The best baseball move is probably to trade him, though that may not be the best move for the organization. And anyway, why would you go get Farnsworth if you’re going to trade away good but pricy relievers?

Posted by Jeff on June 8th, 2005 at 3:09 pm

And it appears we have an answer.

Posted by Jeff on June 8th, 2005 at 6:33 pm

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