Leyland shoots down idea of Valverde reunion

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland admits he doesn't know who his closer will be when the season begins. Bruce Rondon's early struggles are only part of that mystery. One of the few certainties is one guy it won't be.

A couple of days after a rumor floated that Leyland was interested in bringing back free-agent closer Jose Valverde, Leyland denied any interest in a reunion with Detroit's former closer.

"That's not in the picture, trust me," Leyland said. "That has not even been discussed."

The Tigers had a chance to sign Valverde as a free agent this offseason and chose not to pursue him, Leyland pointed out. Leyland has recommended Valverde to more than one team that has asked about him, but has known all offseason he wasn't coming back to Detroit. Early Spring Training struggles from Rondon weren't going to change that.

Another baseball source that has spoken with the Tigers in recent days echoed that.

At this point, there are no indications any options outside the organization have been discussed yet, or whether any discussions are planned. With 3 1/2 weeks of Spring Training games, they have time to watch and decide.

The most important decision in that will be on Rondon and his readiness.

"At some point, it'll come to a head where [team president/general manager] Dave Dombrowski, myself and the coaches will say, 'Yes, he can,' or, 'No, he's not ready,'" Leyland said. "It'll come to a point sometime. But it's way too early. We're not even near that yet."

If Rondon doesn't take the job, the first option appears to be a mix of the relievers already on the team.

Those options have already been mentioned several times, including Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel. They could also include Rondon in a committee scenario rather than the outright job. In some ways, there might be an advantage to breaking him in that way if the Tigers suspect he could struggle in a full-time job.

The way Leyland discussed it Monday, he was prepared for the possibility. But then, he has readied himself for it to some extent since he realized they would not be adding a veteran closer to replace Valverde.

"The ideal situation is to have a closer, in my opinion," Leyland said. "We don't know for sure if we do or we don't yet. It's way too early for that. I've mixed and matched several times in my career. How that's going to play out, I don't know.

"I'm not any more concerned about it than I was two months ago. When I say that, I don't want to make that sound like a red flag, because I don't mean it that way. I managed the last few years with a closer. So you're used to that."