Leyland surprised by Valverde's free agency

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers made it known early in the offseason that they would not re-sign closer Jose Valverde. They just figured someone else would.

Instead, Spring Training has started all over baseball with Valverde still looking for work. His former manager is as surprised as anybody.

"I'm shocked, totally shocked and broken-hearted," Leyland said. "This guy was absolutely fantastic, absolutely fantastic for us. He's one of the best teammates I ever managed. He did as good of a job for three years in a row. I can't believe that in a two-week period -- granted, he wasn't as good maybe last year -- but in a two-week period, it seemed like everything that this guy did got forgotten about, and I just can't even imagine."

Leyland thought highly enough of Valverde that he acted as a job reference for him to teams that asked for his opinion.

"I talked to a couple people and recommended him very highly," Leyland said.

The Tigers' closer situation, though, might work against him. If Leyland thinks that highly of Valverde, the next question to come up would be why the Tigers have shown no interest in bringing him back.

Leyland tread carefully on that one.

"Well, I think the Tigers felt that it was just time," Leyland said. "It was pretty rough on him the last period there in Detroit. It got a little rough on the kid, and I understood the magnitude of what was going on and everything. But if you remember right, I supported him through thick and thin through all of that. But I had to do what I had do. I wasn't very comfortable doing it, but I did what I had to do."