July 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski after trade: Improving bullpen still 'a major focus'

Joakim Soria has a career ERA of 2.51 and a WHIP of 1.05. (Getty Images / Rich Schultz)

Detroit — Are the Tigers done trading? They don’t want to be.

They know what their weakness is. Even with newly acquired Joakim Soria, it’s the bullpen.

They like their starting rotation. They also like the depth of their lineup. But the Tigers still aren’t sure their bullpen is of the caliber that can carry them to a World Series championship.

In Soria, the Tigers have unquestionably landed a quality relief pitcher. They’d like to get another, probably a left-hander, but don’t know that they will.

In a media conference call Thursday morning, however, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said the bullpen will continue to be “a major focus.”

“We’re still open-minded to getting better,” Dombrowski said. “But I’m not sure if we will (do something more) or not.”

He stopped short of identifying the need as a left-hander, although it no doubt is.

“I wouldn’t say specifically what we’re addressing,” Dombrowski said.

With a win-now mentality, though, Dombrowski won’t hesitate to trade away more prospects if the opportunity arises for a pitcher who could help right away.

“I’ve never really been afraid to give up talent,” Dombrowski said.

That proved true enough in the Soria deal with Texas.

The Tigers gave up right-handers Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson, two of the organization’s top five prospects — or two of their top seven, depending on the evaluator being consulted.

Either way, the package the Rangers received in return is loaded with potential, which is why it appealed to a club that can look beyond this year’s postseason.

The Tigers, though, are planning only for the postseason. Their goal isn’t only to get to the World Series but to win it. And to win it, they knew they’d have to bolster their bullpen.

So they did.

“It was important for us to get someone who could pitch late in the game,” Dombrowski replied when asked whether the Tigers needed another closer in case Joe Nathan continues to lack consistency.

“Joba (Chamberlain) has done a great job in the eighth inning, but we’ve struggled at times getting to him in the eighth.

“And on days he’s not been able to pitch, we’ve scuffled in the eighth.”

In Soria, the Tigers have acquired more than a seventh-inning pitcher. They’ve added the vital luxury of a backup closer.

Both Nathan and Ian Kinsler, teammates of Soria last year in Texas, were made aware of the interest the Tigers had in Soria when that interest was in its infancy. Both reacted positively to the chances of acquiring him.

For now, though, there’s no talk of Soria replacing Nathan in the closer’s role. Then again, the Tigers would not apply pressure on a struggling incumbent by declaring his possible successor has just been acquired.

Dombrowski said Nathan has been “inconsistent at times. Joe has not had a year he’s had in the past, but ultimately, we think he can close games for us.

“Lately he’s been better. But we tried to address what happens when Joe pitches three days in a row, and Joba pitches two days in a row.”

No mention was made of Al Alburquerque, but his role, which had been the seventh inning, is bound to diminish with the addition of Soria.

Of parting with Knebel and Thompson, Dombrowski said, “Yeah, we gave up guys we valued, but we thought it was a necessity.

“We needed to do something at the back end of the bullpen.”

Even if it meant the departure of two pitchers quickly climbing the organizational ladder

That was the key, though. Knebel and Thompson still are climbing that ladder. The Tigers need help now.

The Rangers, of course, don’t feel that urgency.

“He fits in with the wave of pitchers we have coming in,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels said of Thompson.

Of Knebel, a Texas native (as is Thompson), Daniels said, “He has shot through (the Tigers’) system. We see him as a guy who is very close to contributing.”

About Soria, though, Daniels told MLB.com, ‘It’s not easy trading a winning guy.”

Of Soria’s $7 million club option for 2015, Dombrowski said, “It’s a definite plus to know we can have Joakim for next year. But it probably put (Texas) in a position to ask for more.

“I think our system is as strong as I’ve ever seen it, though. We have some depth in the pitching department.

“You have give up things to get a player of Soria’s caliber, but we had to do it in our estimation.”

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

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