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Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Tigers, Valverde finalize contract

Associated Press

DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers are hoping "Papa Grande" comes up big for them this season.

Jose Valverde, all 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds of him, joined the Tigers as their closer after a $14 million, two-year contract was finalized on Tuesday.

The agreement, which was reached last week pending a physical, includes a $9 million option for 2012.

Valverde had 25 saves in 29 chances for the Houston Astros last year, when he struck out 56 in 54 innings and limited opponents to a .207 batting average. The 30-year-old righty was 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA last season after leading the NL in saves with Arizona in 2007 and Houston in 2008.

"We think Jose is one of the premier closers in the game," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He addresses to us what was our biggest need on our ballclub and gives us a chance, we think, to have a very solid pitching staff."

Detroit also agreed to one-year contracts with catcher Gerald Laird ($3.95 million), left-hander Bobby Seay ($2,475,000) and righty Zach Miner ($950,000).

The moves mean the Tigers have only one player still in arbitration, ace pitcher Justin Verlander. When the sides exchanged figures Tuesday, Verlander asked for $9.5 million and the club offered $6.9 million.

"We're hopeful to keep Justin a part of our organization for a long time and we remain hopeful of being able to do that," Dombrowski said.

The addition of Valverde gives Detroit the closer it needed after choosing not to re-sign Fernando Rodney or Brandon Lyon.

Rodney received an $11 million, two-year contract from the Los Angeles Angels and Lyon signed with Houston for $15 million over three seasons.

Valverde said he has friends on the Tigers, including first baseman Miguel Cabrera and right fielder Magglio Ordonez, and is looking forward to joining the team.

"I'm so excited right now," said Valverde, who is 19-19 with a 3.17 ERA and 167 saves in seven major league seasons -- five with the Diamondbacks and two with Houston. He was an All-Star in 2007 and finished sixth in NL Cy Young Award voting.

Another of his friends is Rodney, and Valverde said his pal praised the Tigers during their conversations.

"He told me, 'There's a good energy over there. You'd be happy over there because everybody -- the GM, the fans, the manager -- everybody's good over there,'" Valverde said.

Valverde grew up in the town of El Seibo, Dominican Republic, where he lived with his parents and two younger brothers on a family farm. As a teenager, he was talked into taking up baseball by his uncle, former major league pitcher Jose Mercedes.

Valverde is known both for his imposing size -- he's called "Papa Grande" or "Big Papa" -- as well as his theatricality on the mound. He thrusts out his arms and legs and gyrates his body in celebration after saves and some strikeouts.

Valverde brushed off a question Tuesday from a reporter who asked whether he was concerned about pitching at Comerica Park in April and May when temperatures can be chilly.

"I pitched in Arizona, and it was 120 [degrees] over there," he said. "When you're on the mound, you have to forget about everything. You have to concentrate on the hitter."

He's said he's not concerned about the switch from the NL to the AL.

"I don't care. It's the same baseball," Valverde said.

He said he agreed to sign with the Tigers because they provide him with a chance to win.

"I don't want to lose every year. I played for Arizona. I played for Houston," he said. "This is a time for winning. I want to go to the World Series, and I want to have a ring on my finger."

Laird batted .225 with four home runs and 33 RBIs in a career-high 135 games with Detroit in 2009. His .997 fielding percentage was tops among AL catchers, and he led the league by throwing out 40.4 percent of runners attempting to steal.

Seay went 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 67 appearances last season. Miner was 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA in a career-high 51 games.

Detroit also announced Tuesday that it received cash from San Diego to complete the Dec. 21 trade that sent catcher Dusty Ryan to the Padres. Ryan appeared in 12 games for the Tigers last year, going 4 for 26 (.154) with four RBIs.