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“I had a great conversation with him the other night,” Leyland said. “I told him, `This is your chance, chase it, be happy. … I’m telling you right now to your face, I really want you back. But this is your time. Go take advantage of it.’”

Dombrowski sounded confident Detroit might find an in-house candidate to close next year in Valverde’s absence. The Tigers still have right-hander Joaquin Benoit in their bullpen.

Minor leaguer Bruce Rondon has turned heads, too.

“People don’t sometimes believe this, but it is true. He averages 100 miles an hour and topped off at 103, and throws his breaking stuff for consistent strikes,” Dombrowski said. “This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer, and normally you’re not going to thrust that in a young guy’s hands and say automatically, `It’s your job’ _ but it would not surprise me if he earned that job. With the number of good arms that are out there, there are not many arms like this, and he cherishes that type of role.”

Detroit also has several regular players eligible for arbitration, which could inflate the payroll. Among them are catcher Alex Avila, reliever Phil Coke, center fielder Austin Jackson and starters Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.