Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and Tigers manager Jim Leyland both spoke publicly Saturday about potential rookie closer Bruce Rondon and free agent closer Brian Wilson. While speaking during TigerFest, both of them admitted that Rondon isn't a lock to close.
This is the first time all offseason that both men have come out and expressed some reservations this openly about Rondon. Dombrowski also spoke about Wilson, shutting the door on the Tigers' pursuit of him.
After free-agent closer Rafael Soriano signed with the Washington Nationals, ESPN's Buster Olney summed it up best when talking about the Tigers:
Some rival execs thought DET would go for Soriano eventually. Now that he's off the board, DET closing situation will be big spring topic.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 15, 2013
The Tigers' closer situation has been a popular water cooler debate all offseason, and it's about to get even more popular as we get closer to spring training.
Leyland spoke about Rondon when he told Tom Gage of the Detroit News as well as the audience at TigerFest, "So about this closer situation: I don't really know what I'm going to do."
Gage seems to think that the Tigers are still just being careful when he wrote, "The Tigers aren't backing off on their confidence in Rondon. But at the same time, they've not publicly plunged into a commitment to him."
I tend to look at it differently.
Since the beginning of the offseason, Dombrowski has continued to speak with confidence about Rondon. But over the past few days, he has softened his tone a bit. After the World Series, he spoke about Rondon in a press conference to Chris Iott from MLive.com and other reporters:
"This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer," Dombrowski said. "Normally you're not going to thrust that in a young guy's hands and say automatically, 'That's your job,' but it would not surprise me if he earned that job.
"There are not many arms like this. And he cherishes that kind of role."
Dombrowski then elaborated:
"He’s a rare talent," Dombrowski said. "You would not believe the number of clubs that call me about Bruce Rondon.
"If I had a choice of any young closer in baseball to give an opportunity to in any organization, it would be him," Dombrowski said. "Now, would be ready? I don't know that. But he is that good."
Now compare the above quote to Dombrowski's comments, Saturday, when he spoke to James Schmehl of MLive.com about Wilson's desire to still close: "We're really not in a position to be able to make (Wilson) that promise at this time," he said. "For us, where we're at with Rondon, we feel comfortable going in that direction."
While Dombrowski seemingly ruled out the Tigers going after Wilson, he used the words "that promise at this time."
I have always believed that Dombrowski is one of the best GMs in the major leagues at not showing his cards to anyone. He is very careful when talking to reporters, so for him even to bring up and address Brian Wilson's free agency directly is telling, as he won't usually get into specifics.
Now, am I saying that Dombrowski and the Tigers are having second thoughts about Rondon? Not at all. I just think they are still looking to make the Tigers better with one of the few remaining question marks on the team, and that's their job.
Am I reading too much into Dombrowski and Leyland's comments? Possibly, but as I wrote earlier this week, the Tigers are used to pulling late offseason surprise moves. I don't think anyone would be shocked if a big trade or signing is in the works, which could involve a closer.
Dombrowski talked to Lynn Henning of the Detroit News on Jan. 26 about the quality of free agents still available.
"Normally, by now, you're pretty well set (teams and their rosters)," Dombrowski said. "There are a couple of real good players out there. I'm a little surprised."
Are the Tigers carefully preparing Detroit for a move that will answer some questions as they head into spring training?
As Dombrowski said, he is surprised at some names on the market. So one of those free agents could potentially help open the door to a larger trade to be packaged with a pitcher like Rick Porcello. It's all speculation, of course, at this point, but a few seemingly innocent remarks sparked potential for a lot of new possibilities.