Tigers exercise 2012 team option on Valverde

Tigers exercise 2012 team option on Valverde

DETROIT -- Teams will spend the next three days announcing some difficult decisions on contract options. Jose Valverde's option won't be one of them.

For the Tigers, in fact, it was about as automatic as Valverde's save situations this year. So they didn't need to wait through the weekend to announce that they're picking up the right-hander's $9 million salary for next season.

Valverde's option was part of the two-year, $14 million deal he signed with the Tigers as a free agent before the 2010 season. It wasn't always looking like a certainty that the Tigers would pick it up. When Detroit signed Joaquin Benoit to a three-year, $15 million deal last fall, Benoit had the appearance of a closer-in-waiting. Then Valverde went 52-for-52 in save situations between the regular season and playoffs.

The Tigers reaped the benefits of having Benoit and Valverde as a late-inning duo this year, going 77-0 in games they led after seven innings and 83-0 after leading through eight. Another year with them at the back end of the bullpen gives Detroit a major advantage going into 2012.

Valverde's 49 saves set a new franchise record. By going 49-for-49 in save chances, the Big Potato not only obliterated Guillermo Hernandez's single-season Tigers mark of 32 consecutive saves, he posted the second-best perfect saves season in Major League history. Eric Gagne's 55-for-55 performance for the 2003 Dodgers is the only higher mark.

Valverde's saves weren't always easy, especially down the stretch. But in the end, the numbers were dominant. He allowed just 52 hits over 72 1/3 innings in the regular season, with 34 walks and 69 strikeouts. Opponents batted just .198 against him with five home runs.

The 49 saves and 70 games finished led Major League pitchers this year.

Break down the stats to just save situations, and Valverde's numbers were even stronger. He allowed just three earned runs on 26 hits over 49 innings, with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts. Two of those earned runs came on homers.

For those efforts, Valverde was named MLB Delivery Man of the Year earlier in October. He could end up with some AL Cy Young Award votes when the balloting results are released next month, though the award itself will most likely go to his Tigers teammate, Justin Verlander.

The contract option, obviously, is another recognition for what he means to this team. With 75 saves over two seasons in Detroit, Valverde has a strong chance to become just the fifth pitcher with 100 saves as a Tiger, joining Willie Hernandez, Todd Jones, Mike Henneman and John Hiller.

"I think we're both right-handed, but I think after that, the comparisons kind of go away," Jones said during the AL Division Series. "Jose has had an amazing year. He's an amazing closer. People don't really realize how hard 50 out of 50 saves is until you watched me or had a chance to go out there yourself.

"He's a fierce competitor, and I think everybody enjoys him in the clubhouse. Everybody on the team has said nothing but great things. He's just had an amazing year."

The results for a Tigers team that won its first division title since 1987 provided the substance behind a style that has made Valverde one of the game's unique personalities. Time and again, his save celebrations have delighted fans and irked opponents, whether it was a crossing of his arms or a dance around the mound. His superstitions before he throws a pitch have become ingrained in Tigers fans' memories.

"I don't know what I do [after the game]," Valverde said earlier this year. "You guys can tell me what I do, but I don't know. Somebody told me you do something different. I told him I have no idea what I'm doing. I swear to God. When I'm pitching, I'm not paying attention to what I'm doing. My mind is on doing my job quick and that's it."

With his option decided, he won't have to worry about his job for next year.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.