Earlier this week, Bill Shanks, publisher of The Braves Show, wrote an op-ed piece arguing that if the Braves are willing to move Smoltz, they should demand not only reliever Joel Zumaya, but also another top Tiger farmhand; Humberto Sanchez or Zach Miner among those mentioned. (read the full article here)
Acquiring Smoltz and adding him to an already impressive rotation would certainly be a bounty. Few pitchers have his postseason, big game experience, and few pitchers carry his resume – including a Cy Young on his mantle.
But what price should the Tigers pay to get Smoltz? If they come calling, offering Smoltz for Zumaya and Miner, should the Tigers pull the trigger?
Coming into the season, Joel Zumaya was one of the top ranked prospects in baseball. At just 21 years old, Zumaya made the Tiger bullpen and immediately moved into a top relief role, setting up for Fernando Rodney and working in tight situations. In 33 appearances, he has a 2.25 ERA with 19 holds. He has already become a valuable member of the ballclub.
And his value is only going to increase – Jonathon Papelbon and Bobby Jenks have proven you don’t need big league experience to close with the pressure on. There’s no question that Zumaya, with his triple-digit fastball, knee-buckling curve and 80 MPH change-up, has that same ability, and the same bulldog mentality to take the ball and go head-to-head with the game’s best with the game on the line.
You don’t trade that for a two month rental, ESPECIALLY when you’re already talking about a rotation that has been the best in baseball through the first half of the season. Of the top 15 pitchers in ERA in the AL, four of them are Tigers. Since being called up, Zach Miner is 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA. Mike Maroth was a 5-2 with a 3.52 ERA before he fell victim to surgery. That gives the Tigers six incredibly capable starters, which is two to three more than what you need to make a run deep in the playoffs.
That doesn’t mean Smoltz wouldn’t be a valuable addition to the Tigers. And who could write a story better than the Tigers re-acquiring their former farmhand, and bringing Smoltz home to lead the charge for his hometown team. It would make for great television, a perfect piece for Joe Buck to narrate as a prelude to a late September game with the Tigers battling for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, great television and great baseball management don’t always go hand-in-hand.
And with the rotation the Tigers have, moving a piece like Zumaya just to add Smoltz to the rotation is bordering on insane. Miner? Go for it. Adding in a lower tiered prospect as well like Dallas Trahern or Kevin Whelan? Why not. But Zumaya? The Tigers future closer? It’s simply not worth it.
But here’s the thing – why should the Tigers invest in pitching when they’ve got 4 pitchers among the top in baseball? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t.
Why not take a look at the lineup, where there are still issues like 7 right handed hitters in the everyday lineup. Craig Monroe could certainly be upgraded, and arguments can be made for Placido Polanco and Brandon Inge as well. The Tigers have no idea if Dmitri Young is going to come back at full strength after his personal issues involving a domestic violence charge and admitting himself to an alcohol rehab facility. Plus, there’s still the issue of a bench that features heavy hitters like Ramon Santiago.
At this point, the Tigers would be much better off in making a play for a valuable bat like Raul Ibanez or Bobby Abreu – lefties with good pop who are patient and make solid contact.
And even they aren’t worth parting with Zumaya.
The Tigers have had a great first half, and could bring October baseball back to Detroit for the first time since the Reagan administration. But adding John Smoltz at the cost of Joel Zumaya is the wrong move to make, and will do nothing but set the Tigers back for years to come while only marginally upgrading the current club.
Want to see an improvement on the club? Then let’s look for the lefty bat that everyone in baseball knows we need.