The Detroit Tigers completed a trade Wednesday night that, for many reasons, can be categorized simultaneously as logical and silly, vital and overkill, possibly prescient and potentially regrettable. But make no mistake: The Tigers' acquisition of Joakim Soria was absolutely necessary.
The swap has Soria, the Texas Rangers closer, heading to Detroit in exchange for a pair of highly regarded right-handed prospects in Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel.
Soria, 30, has been excellent in his first full season back in the bigs after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Even after blowing just his second save of the year on Tuesday against the New York Yankees, Soria has successfully converted 17 opportunities and is sporting a 2.70 ERA, an impressive 0.87 WHIP and a dazzling 42-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33.1 innings.
"It's a good team that is a contender," Soria said of the Tigers, via Jason Beck of MLB.com. "I haven't talked to them yet, but they're going to be my new family. I am going to do everything they need me to do. I want to help them get to the World Series."
That is, in fact, the goal. This deal represents yet another all-in push for the Tigers and general manager Dave Dombrowski at a point when their arrow on the competition spectrum is still pointing entirely on "win now."
The current core of the Tigers that is chasing after a franchise-record fourth straight postseason berth is still fully intact. The only thing missing is, well, the very same thing that's been missing throughout this extended run of success—a stable bullpen.
Here's where we remind you that one of Detroit's big transactions last winter was addressing that very issue by inking Joe Nathan—the active MLB saves leader after Mariano Rivera's retirement—to a two-year, $20 million contract. Alas, with a 5.89 ERA and five blown saves already, Nathan has had the worst year of his otherwise-exemplary 14-year career at age 39.
Essentially, then, this Soria trade is the Tigers fixing a problem they thought had been fixed already. It's Dombrowski more or less acknowledging that it's time to admit a mistake, although early indications are Nathan will remain in the closer role—for now.
Regardless of the fact that the Nathan signing hasn't worked out, Dombrowski has a knack for pulling off much-needed midseason moves. He's proven to be among the best when it comes to diagnosing and/or projecting his club's biggest holes and/or needs.
In 2012, the Tigers added righty Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante from the Miami Marlins near the deadline to shore up the rotation and infield in one fell swoop.
Last year, the pending 50-game suspension for Jhonny Peralta was about to leave Detroit sans a shortstop, so Dombrowski preemptively traded for defensive wiz Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox. Jose Veras, who had been the Houston Astros' closer through the first half of last season, was also acquired in a separate swap.
In all three of those trades, Dombrowski gave up pieces of the future for players who could help in the present, which is the same approach he used to get Soria.
That aggressive approach has left Detroit's farm system rather thin; it ranked in the bottom five in the sport by each of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN (subscription required) coming into 2014, and it will only drop after this.
But at the same time, it's awfully hard to criticize an organization for cashing in a few prospect chips when it doesn't have many to begin with—and when it's been so successful doing so in the past.
After all, here are the names of the prospects Dombrowski gave up in the two aforementioned trades: Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn, Avisail Garcia, Danry Vasquez and David Paulino. It's still too soon to judge those six, but so far not a one has come back to bite the Tigers.
This goes all the way back to the blockbuster in December 2007 that landed two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera in Detroit. Among the six players who went to the Marlins in that one were "can't-miss" prospects Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, who, in fact, missed.
For a team that has come oh-so-close each of the past three years and has a legitimate shot at a championship again, it's World Series or bust.
Still, it's hard to ignore the fact that the price paid for the insurance and stability that Soria should provide in the late innings was a steep one.
Thompson, the Tigers' second-rounder in 2012, is only 20 years old and has already reached Double-A after posting a 3.14 ERA 1.21 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 in the Florida State League.
Knebel, meanwhile, is a hard-throwing 22-year-old reliever with closer upside who reached Detroit less than a year after being a first-round draft pick in 2013.
That's undoubtedly quite a bit of value to surrender for any relief pitcher, even one as great as Soria has been this year and in the past, and even if there's a good chance Detroit will pick up Soria's $7 million option to make sure he sticks around in 2015, too.
The Tigers, though, are built to win—right now. They also have the clearest path to the playoffs: Among all six divisions, Detroit's 6.5-game lead over the Cleveland Indians is the largest in the sport. For the Tigers, it's less about getting to October again than it is about going the distance once there.
Remember, last year's AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, having rejected the club's $144 million overture in the offseason, is a free-agent-to-be and could be gone in a few months; so, too, could Torii Hunter, the 39-year-old, 18-year veteran whose contract concludes at season's end.
The same goes for Victor Martinez, who is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career. Martinez, 35, will be a free agent after this season. There's no way all three players will be back, considering how much each will command on the open market.
Three years running, the Tigers have come close, only to trip over one of the very last hurdles. In 2011, Detroit lost the ALCS to the Texas Rangers in six games. In 2012, they reached the World Series only to be swept by San Francisco Giants.
Last year, of course, brought that epic battle against the eventual champion Boston Red Sox, who essentially won the ALCS on three swings: David Ortiz's grand slam in Game 2; Mike Napoli's homer as the only run of Game 3; and Shane Victorino's series-clinching slam in the seventh inning of Game 6.
Don't forget: Both of those slams sandwiching Napoli's blast came off relievers in Joaquin Benoit and Veras. Think that wasn't in the back of Dombrowski's mind when he pulled the trigger on Wednesday?
The Detroit Tigers were already in win-now mode in 2014 and are in good shape as the second half of the season gets underway. In the wake of landing Soria, they're entering all-in territory.
It's a gamble, but it's a gamble worth taking for the Tigers, because when it's all about clearing that final hurdle, the only thing left to do is cross the finish line.
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