The Tigers gave up top prospects Corey Knebel, pictured, and Jake Thompson to get Joakim Soria last week. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Four years that any Tigers fan should know the significance of without hesitation are 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984. Those were the years Detroit celebrated a World Series title.
Those under age 35 or so have little clue what it is like to celebrate a baseball title. You’ve got to add another few years to that to find anyone with vivid memories of the last Tigers championship.
So when the question arises whether the Tigers should go all out to win a championship, the answer seems an obvious “yes.”
Even if it means the team will not be as strong in 2015 or 2016?
As Al Davis said during the Raiders’ heyday, “Just win, baby,” right?
Even the Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s had a title to their name. To come as close as the Tigers have during their runs during the past eight seasons without winning the Commissioner’s Trophy would seem to render the Tigers’ success hollow.
The problem is that there’s absolutely no way to guarantee a championship. You can spend $200 million and sign franchise players only to come up empty. You can finish the season with the best record in the majors -- even win more than 100 games -- yet lose in a division series thanks to a few bad bounces.
And, yes, you can make the best midseason acquisitions and have nothing to show for it at the end of October. Plenty of teams make trades. Only one wins the championship. Should that keep teams from trying at all?
That’s all part of what makes the trade deadline so interesting. Every move invites debate whether the cost was too high and whether a move puts a team’s odds over the top.
Usually the answer is “no” -- to both questions. Yet usually the team that gets the better player is going to win the trade, because prospects seldom turn into above-average major league players. They’re lottery tickets, for the most part.
And let’s dispense talk of John Smoltz right here. The likelihood a 22nd-round draft pick turns in the kind of 21-year, Hall-of-Fame-worth career Smoltz did is so small as not to even enter calculations. If you’re afraid to make a trade because you might be giving up the next Smoltz, you’ve already lost.
Yet, the Tigers almost certainly have players on the farm who can help them get back to the playoffs in 2015, 2016 or beyond. Maybe in one of those seasons the October dice roll comes up in Detroit’s favor and the Tigers finally get that celebratory parade. So maybe you don’t want to give those prospects up too freely. If only you knew who they were ahead of time.
Last week the Tigers traded a pair of right-handed pitchers, reliever Corey Knebel and starter Jake Thompson, for Joakim Soria. Both could turn out to be productive major league players. Neither seems like can’t-miss major league stars in the making.
Soria, despite his Tigers debut Saturday, will almost certainly be a key player in Detroit’s bullpen the rest of this year and all of next. Trading for relievers isn’t generally smart organization building, but players like Soria don’t come around all the time. So it seems like a good deal.
To win the World Series, you’ve got to get to it first. Giving yourself as many chances of that as possible will always be the smartest move a GM could make. Sometimes you have to hold on to your prospects to do that, but sometimes you’ve got to trade them. There are few easy answers at the trade deadline.
Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.