Of Trade Deadlines, Detroit Tigers, Fidrych, Smoltz, Skubal

Doyle Alexander put the Detroit Tigers over the top in 1987 (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Doyle Alexander put the Detroit Tigers over the top in 1987 (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Detroit Tigers’ GM Al Avila should learn from history

With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Detroit Tigers must decide which direction they’ll go over the short and long term. Should they trade long-term assets like Gregory Soto and Tarik Skubal to solve numerous positional holes, or do they deal pending free agents like Michael Fulmer and Robbie Grossman and settle for modest returns?

General Manager Al Avila and the Tigers’ braintrust must answer that question soon. On Aug. 12, 1987, then Tigers’ GM Bill Lajoie made such a move by acquiring journeyman starting pitcher Doyle Alexander for a young prospect named John Smoltz.

At the time, Detroit was in a dogfight for the American League East with Toronto and New York. The Tigers sat in second place, 1.5 games behind the Blue Jays, and the Yankees were close behind at 2.5 games out.

The top of the Tigers starting rotation was rock solid with Jack Morris, Walt Terrell and Frank Tanana. But the back end with Dan Petry and Jeff Robinson had struggled, both with ERA’s north of 5.00.

In such a tight race, Lajoie knew he had to do something. Up until the trade, Alexander, 36, hadn’t exactly set the National League on fire with a 5-10 record and a 4.13 ERA.

As if he had stepped into Marvel’s Multiverse of Madness, a new more powerful Alexander emerged from the trade and put the Detroit Tigers over the top. The right hander posted an otherworldly 9-0 record and a 1.53 ERA.

While Alexander’s brilliance was enough to get the Tigers into the playoffs, it wasn’t enough to get them past a red hot Minnesota Twins team that ultimately won the World Series.

And every Detroit Tigers’ fan knows what happened with Smoltz. Just 20 at the time of the trade and struggling in Triple-A, Smoltz went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Atlanta Braves.

Fidrych: Detroit Tigers Ultimate What If

While circumstances almost dictated the trade for Lajoie, I’ve often wondered what might have been under different circumstances.

Mark Fidrych captured the hearts of Detroit Tigers fans in 1976.
Mark Fidrych captured the hearts of Detroit Tigers fans in 1976. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

In 1976, Mark Fidrych won the American League Rookie of the Year with a 19-9 record and 2.34 ERA. Just 21,  “The Bird” hurt his arm the next season and was out of baseball by 1981.

Fidrych captured the imagination of many Tigers’ fans, including 11-year old me. As I grew up and watched the Tigers turn into champions in 1984, I dreamed of how many more championships they might have won had Fidrych not gotten hurt and continued to pitch well.

In 1983 for example, the Detroit Tigers finished with a 92-70 record, six games behind an amazing Baltimore team that won 98. Would The Bird have been enough to get them over the top?

Then you look at 1987. Fidrych would have been just 32 years old. Perhaps he might have slowed down some by then, but he would have likely been better than Petry or Robinson. Perhaps Lajoie doesn’t make the trade for Alexander and John Smoltz, a Michigan native and Lansing Waverly High School graduate, would have had his Hall of Fame career with the Tigers?

So, the job in front of Al Avila isn’t as cut and dry as it appears at first glance. Sure, trade away the veterans bound for free agency.

But do you really roll the dice with Skubal, who has the talent to become a dominant starting pitcher? The Alexander-Smoltz trade should serve as a cautionary tale for Avila.

Detroit Tigers: 3 very unrealistic trade proposals. dark. Next