Detroit Tigers: John Smoltz, what could have been?


It’s that time of year in baseball. The time where each franchise proclaims whether they believe they have a chance to win this season.

It’s the time of year where the most trades occur, particularly one-sided trades. The teams out of the hunt sell off their best players for generally unheard and unproven prospects.

But just occasionally, one of those unproven prospects eventually becomes a star.

In 1987, the Tigers traded one of their pitching prospects for left-handed veteran Doyle Alexander. That pitching prospect was 20-year-old John Smoltz.

At the time, the Tigers appeared to get the better part of that deal. Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his 11 starts in 1987 to help Detroit beat the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East title. Alexander pitched two more seasons in Detroit and went 14-11 in 1988 as the Tigers finished second.

But nearly 30 years later, fans know this trade didn’t favor Detroit. Actually, it’s pretty easy to argue the trade was one-sided in favor of Atlanta. The Braves acquired the only pitcher in baseball history with 200 victories and 150 saves. With Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz became part of one of the best rotations, if not the best, baseball has ever seen.

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Smoltz went into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.  It’s anyone’s best guess what Alexander was doing on Sunday.

Still, it wasn’t a one-sided trade. In fact, each team received exactly what it wanted. The Tigers wanted a veteran pitcher to help them win “now”. That’s what they got. The Braves were re-building and had a young starting pitcher on their wish list.

In late July, ask and you shall receive. Atlanta got what they bargained for and more.

And there in lies the danger of trading at “this” time of the year. General manager Dave Dombrowski has traded away Tigers prospects four years in a row in an attempt to win “now’. It was the right move because in each of those seasons, Detroit had great opportunities to win.

The 2015 team, however, does not have that same chance. The Tigers are four games below .500 and are 29-40 since May 9. Over the last 11 and a half weeks, that’s the worst record in the American League.

Trading away more prospects to try and win now is not a wise decision even if the likelihood the prospects eventually become Hall of Famers is slim to none.

Because there is always that small chance a prospect does pan out, and 30 years from now, Tigers fans would rather not be asking themselves “What could have been?” like they did on Sunday with John Smoltz.

Next: Detroit Tigers: 5 Free Agent Targets for 2016