Detroit — The Tigers made the best possible choice, even if they really had no choice. You want to win a championship, you keep paying the price until you get it done.
Joakim Soria is a tremendous addition to the battered bullpen, acquired Wednesday night from Texas for two of the Tigers’ top prospects, pitchers Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson. Frankly, the Tigers could’ve traded all their prospects plus the Ty Cobb statue in Comerica Park to land Soria and you wouldn’t complain.
GM Dave Dombrowski knew his bullpen could wreck a title run, so he did what he always does, what owner Mike Ilitch long has mandated. Soria doesn’t guarantee that coveted World Series title, obviously, but he patches a hole and minimizes the risk, and in baseball, that’s all you can do. Of the available relievers, Soria made the most sense, no matter where he fits in the bullpen, no matter the cost.
Joe Nathan likely will be given a chance to hang onto the closer role, and Soria actually was his setup guy in Texas last season. But Soria, 30, has the arm and the arsenal and the numbers — 2.70 ERA, 0.87 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) — to be dominant, whether he works the eighth or ninth. Pitching in the Rangers’ hitter-friendly park, he hasn’t allowed a home run all season.
Suddenly, the Tigers’ bullpen doesn’t look so barren, although Dombrowski still could pick up another reliever. Joba Chamberlain has been the only reliable guy, which is a cautionary point worth repeating. Nathan came here to end the Tigers’ closer woes, and at 39, has struggled. Chamberlain came here as an afterthought, and is thriving in the eighth inning. Bruce Rondon was going to fill that role, but got injured.
Soria could bump Chamberlain to the seventh, or take over the ninth, or throw the ball between his legs if he wishes. As long as he keeps firing strikes — 42 strikeouts, four walks in 33 innings — the Tigers are instantly improved.
The Tigers didn’t just go all-in with this move. They’ve been all-in (within financial reason) for a while, and there’s no turning back. They seldom fret about surrendering prospects and they shouldn’t, not with a team built to win now.
If you really want to pile up the chips, you can remind Dombrowski he needs another left-handed bat, too. But this was the deal he had to make before any other, and Soria could be the ideal complement, capable of closing or setting up. For all the debate about acquiring former Tiger Joaquin Benoit from the Padres, Soria is better, and his contract is palatable. He has a club option for next season at $7 million, so the Tigers aren’t just renting his services.
When I asked Nathan the other day whether he’d be bothered if the team dealt for a closer, he was appropriately diplomatic. He knows the Tigers can’t worry about hurt feelings, and don’t have time to wait for production.
“If that’s what we need, and that’s what this club needs to win games — we’re about getting to the playoffs and ultimately winning this whole thing,” Nathan said. “That’s why I came over here, that’s what I’m doing here.”
That’s why Soria is coming too. The order of relievers will sort itself out, but at least now when Brad Ausmus goes to the mound, he has another option that doesn’t make his stomach gurgle.
And if you’re concerned about mortgaging the future by giving up good young players, well, just check the fine print from the majors Wednesday. Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin was suspended 25 games after testing positive for amphetamines, another blotch on a thoroughly unremarkable career. Maybin, you might recall, was one of the Tigers’ prized prospects, and was a significant chip in a trade way back on Dec, 5, 2007.
Maybin, Andrew Miller and others were sent to the Marlins that day for a rising star named Miguel Cabrera. Dombrowski hasn’t had any great prospects come back to haunt him yet, and even if he does, he knows the deal. When you’re a contender, it’s always riskier to wait for help than to go get it.