Detroit Tigers trade John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander
This is the best proof that hindsight is 20/20. On paper, the Tigers trade of minor leaguer John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander made perfect sense. After all, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who went 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA in Double-A in 1987. Trading him to acquire an arm like Alexander, who had thrown over 2,700 big league innings with a 3.71 ERA and was a Cy Young finisher in 1986, seemed like a no-brainer.
To give a modern example, this would be like the Tigers trading 2016 22nd rounder Burris Warner for C.C. Sabathia at the trade deadline. If the team was competing, this trade would make perfect sense. No one is expecting Warner to become a Hall of Famer.
Except John Smoltz did exactly that.
The trade started off with quite the bang, as Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 second half starts for the Tigers. Without him, the team may not have made the pennant that year. Alexander was bad in the playoffs however, and although he made 67 more starts for the Tigers he posted a 4.38 ERA and a 20-29 record.
You don’t need me to tell you what happened to John Smoltz. From 1988-1999, Smoltz was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. He went 157-113 with a 3.35 ERA (during the steroid era) with a 121 ERA+, 47 complete games, a 1.18 WHIP and 2,098 strikeouts.
Then, an injury cost him all of 2000. No matter, as Smoltz seamlessly transitioned into a lights out closer. From 2001-2004, Smoltz earned 154 saves with a 2.65 ERA and a 162 ERA+. Then, just for fun, he transitioned back into the rotation, making 120 more starts and two All-Star games. He retired in 2009 at age 42 with 213 wins, 154 saves and a 3.33 career ERA. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer and is one of the best pitchers of his era.
An extremely unfortunate outcome for the Tigers, who must have felt like they gave up very little to acquire an extremely helpful rotation piece down the stretch. As I said, hindsight is always 20/20.
Trading is always a risky game. The Tigers have had plenty of successes, but like any team they’ve had their failures as well. Let us know if there are other trades you think belong on this list!