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Tigers logical destination for Valverde

Tigers logical destination for Valverde

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DETROIT -- The Tigers currently stand as the most interested and most logical destination for free-agent closer Jose Valverde, if they can find common ground on a contract. Not all of the price Detroit would pay, however, would be written in the fine print.

When it comes to giving up a Draft pick to sign Valverde, though, the Tigers are set up to handle it better this year than most.

Though Detroit faces less competition for Valverde than many pundits would've expected when the Hot Stove season opened, nothing about the state of the market changes Valverde's status as a Type A free agent. The stats on Valverde's effectiveness the last couple years don't shift, and neither does the ranking system created by Elias Sports Bureau that placed him solidly among the top relievers available on the market.

There's no question about Valverde's value. Talent evaluators seem to agree he remains among the top closers in the game. The fact that he remains on the market stems more from his decision to decline the Astros' arbitration offer last month and test free agency. It set up not only his own situation, but the question interested teams faced: Pay the draft pick to sign him or keep on shopping.

In the Tigers' case, since their 86-77 record ranked in the top half of Major League teams, that draft pick is a first-rounder. And that question becomes much more complicated.

How that impacts Detroit's negotiations remains to be seen. Though the Tigers have been reluctant to sign relievers to multi-year deals, their attempt to re-sign Brandon Lyon showed their willingness to entertain potential two-year contracts before Lyon signed for three years and $15 million with the Astros. Likewise, reports have suggested Valverde strongly wants a multi-year deal. Traditional thinking suggests a two-year contract, or at least one with an option year, justifies spending a draft pick, though it isn't necessary.

On the surface, giving up the pick would run counter to the organization's recently-professed strategy of building the team through regular contributions from prospects. History, however, shows losing a draft pick can be overcome.

Though the Tigers have signed top free agents since Dombrowski took on general manager duties in 2002, they haven't faced this scenario in quite some time. Detroit gave up a compensation pick to sign closer Troy Percival after the 2004 season, but it was a second-rounder rather than a first thanks to a 72-90 record that year. Same goes for 1999, when the Tigers signed Dean Palmer from Kansas City.

When the Tigers signed top pick Rick Porcello in 2007, Dombrowski talked about the draft as a way for them to compete with top-market clubs for prized talent on an even playing field. That philosophy hasn't changed.

"I know myself the last few years, I think what we've done well through our time is bring in young players and develop them and bring them up," Dombrowski said after last month's trade that brought in youngsters Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson.

"We kind of got away from it, because we were just in a position where [we asked] what can we do to get this final piece. And I think that this gives us an opportunity to go back to building like we would like and set the foundation."

Not since 1991, after free-agent slugger Rob Deer took his high-power, high-strikeout bat to Detroit, have the Tigers not made their assigned first-round selection. Even that year, they had supplementary picks late in that round for losing Jack Morris and Mike Heath as free agents. They haven't gone without a first-round pick altogether since 1984, when they signed Darrell Evans.

They won't go without a first-rounder this year, either. With or without their assigned pick, the 19th overall selection, the Tigers have two compensation picks coming to them at the end of the first round for the loss of Type B free agents Lyon and Fernando Rodney. Even though those picks will come well later in the round -- at best around the 40s -- those compensation picks stand key in the Tigers' decision.

Though early analysis from blogs and publications such as Baseball America have tabbed next summer's Draft as potentially deep in pitching -- the position the Tigers have consistently tabbed in recent first rounds -- it's still early to project how deep the draft will end up. Tigers scouting director David Chadd said he sees potential depth.

Regardless, there's no question 20- or 30-some picks make a difference in what's available. The question is whether the Tigers can find value wherever they pick. In that respect, for all their success in the first round, they might wish to repeat another franchise's bit of history.

Before Chadd took over the Tigers' drafting duties, he spent three years as Red Sox scouting director. In two of those years, Boston lost its first-round pick for signing free agents, leaving their second-rounders as their first selections. Those picks brought in Jon Lester in 2002, then Dustin Pedroia in 2004.

As for a lost first-round pick, the Tigers could eventually get it back. A shorter-term contract on Valverde would have the potential to put him back on the free-agent market as a top free agent in a year or two, a scenario the Tigers could enjoy if Detroit's young relievers were to blossom as hoped. Valverde's production strongly suggests he has several years of production left, which is why a multi-year deal isn't out of the question for Valverde.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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