July 24, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Tony Paul

Joakim Soria is great start, but Tigers need more before trade deadline

The Tigers will hold a club option for $7 million next season on Joakim Soria. (Associated Press / Ben Margot)

Detroit — The Tigers got their guy, as Dave Dombrowski so often does this time of year —and, really, any other time of year, too.

Joakim Soria is the newest member of the Tigers bullpen, thanks to their second big trade with the Rangers in the last eight months.

The first, the Prince Fielder deal in November, gave the Tigers much-needed flexibility — in the payroll and in the body. They got the much more athletic Ian Kinsler in return.

This one, meanwhile, goes a long way in fixing their Achilles’ heel, the bullpen, which was expected to start slow but was expected to get better. Well, it never did.

The only real surprise is the Tigers didn't demand the Rangers include another reliever, lefty Neal Cotts, in the deal. Maybe that's a sign that something else is in the works.

Here’s a quick analysis of the deal:

Closer backup: Dombrowski has stressed for quite some team that the team was not looking for a “closer.” That, of course, is what he had to say.

Dombrowski, after all, did sign Joe Nathan — Soria’s teammate in Texas last year — to a two-year, $20-million deal this past winter. And that contract isn’t likely to be dumped as easily as Fielder’s. Not with the way Nathan has pitched, good sometimes but shaky to awful most others.

But Dombrowski knew he had to get a guy who could close, should Nathan fail to bounce back to his All-Star form. And that’s what the Tigers have found in Soria, the former All-Star closer in K.C. who took over Nathan’s role in Texas so seamlessly.

Given what happened to the Tigers last year – when two poorly located pitches by two different relievers derailed their World Series run — there was no way Dombrowski was going to double-down on 12 again.

Good start: The Soria deal is a good one — well, a good start, that is. But it can’t be it for the Tigers ahead of next Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Their bullpen has holes like Chuck E. Cheese’s ball pits have germs: everywhere you turn. Outside of really only Joba Chamberlain, it’s been a steady stream of nerve-wracking relievers storming in from the Tigers bullpen. Now they have Soria and Chamberlain.

But there’s still Nathan, and Al Alburquerque, and Phil Coke, and Ian Krol, and Blaine Hardy. Three haven’t been very good, Alburquerque’s a mixed bag, and with Hardy, it’s too early to tell.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they still have prospects to deal, more than enough to get one more guy. I suggest that guy be old friend Joaquin Benoit from the Padres, but if it’s Antonio Bastardo from the Phillies or Oliver Perez from the Diamondbacks, that’ll do too. They could use a lockdown left-hander.

Win now: Some Tigers fans will look at the prospects Dombrowski gave up and cringe.

And that’s fine. Corey Knebel projects as a very good back-end reliever at the major-league level within the next few years, and Jake Thompson isn’t too far from making his first major-league start.

But they weren’t going to help the Tigers win this year, and so they were expendable. (That should serve notice to everyone left in the organization.)

The thing about prospects, though: While they’re fun to talk about, so few of them actually pan out. And almost none of the ones Dombrowski has dealt away have amounted to much. Certainly, none have gone on to anything resembling superstardom.

That could change with Knebel or Thompson, or both. Who knows? And who cares?

Dombrowski still got a much better price, and for a better reliever, than the Angels did last week, when they acquired Huston Street for a package of four prime prospects.

Healthy farm: Knebel and Thompson both are headed home to their native Texas. That must be a treat for them, as much as they liked the Tigers.

It’s a void for Detroit, sure. But fans should be encouraged by this: There’s a whole lot more talent in the minor-league system than many analysts give the Tigers credit for, and there still will be should Dombrowski swing another deal before July 31.

The Tigers are absolutely loaded with quality arms at Single-A Lakeland and West Michigan, and their middle-infield depth is dandy, thanks much to some serious gold-striking over the last two of three Major League Baseball drafts.

That’s what folks tend to forget: Teams can replenish lost prospects with one good draft.

And the 2015 draft could be extremely big for the Tigers, given the Tigers could have three of the first 30 picks, if both Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez depart via free-agency.

Smart money: This won’t be talked about much for a while, but the Soria deal might not be as short-term a solution as some suspect. He could be a Tiger for a while.

The Tigers now hold a $7 million option on the right-hander for 2015, which is welcome insurance for a team that doesn’t know how much Nathan has left. They do know this: Chamberlain is pitching his way toward a multi-year deal in the $20-million range, and that’ll likely be too rich for even the Tigers’ blood.

Soria provides some nice depth for a team that also doesn’t know when it’s going to get hard-throwing Bruce Rondon back. Rondon had Tommy John surgery in March.

It's really a cost-effective move. Soria is only owed about $2 million the rest of this year, and if he goes south — like so many other free-agent relievers acquired by the Tigers have — then his buyout on that option is the most reasonable of price tags, at $500,000.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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