DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers made their last playoff appearance 19 years ago, bolstered by a late-summer trade that helped put them over the top.

And ended up hurting their future.

With this year's trade deadline approaching, the first-place Tigers want to avoid making the same mistake this time around.

In August 1987, Detroit dealt pitching prospect John Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves for Doyle Alexander. With a 9-0 record in 11 starts, Alexander helped the Tigers make it to the 1987 playoffs, but was 0-2 as they lost the ALCS to the Minnesota Twins.

Smoltz, of course, went on to have a career that could land him in the Hall of Fame.

The Tigers have the best record in baseball this season at 69-33 entering Saturday's game, and general manager Dave Dombrowski will have to make tough decisions by Monday's trading deadline.

He can deal for a standout such as Washington's Alfonso Soriano or Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu. The Tigers would have to give up at least one of his coveted minor leaguers and perhaps a current player to improve Detroit's chance of winning a World Series for the first time since 1984.

Or, Dombrowski can choose to keep together a team that has stunningly had the best pitching in the majors, timely hitting and tremendous leadership from manager Jim Leyland.

"When you have a chance to win, you don't have many players that are untouchable at the minor league level," Dombrowski told The Associated Press on Thursday from Minnesota, where the Tigers began a series Friday. "To acquire somebody good, it will cost you something."

Dombrowski would not comment on specific players, such as Soriano or Abreu, who reportedly are available. He also declined to detail what teams, such as the Nationals and Phillies, want in return for standouts other clubs want.

"If what they were asking for fit with any team, there would've been a deal by now," he said. "Generally, clubs ask for a whole bunch initially. Then, what generally happens, as you get closer to the deadline, they either ask for less, a club steps up to offer more, or they end up not moving the player."

The Tigers' record shows they do not have a ton of voids, but some believe they need a left-handed bat and possibly a starting pitcher to improve their chances.

Switch-hitting designated hitter Dmitri Young recently returned from a substance-abuse-related leave from the team and has hit well.

Left-hander Mike Maroth is on pace to come back from elbow surgery in mid-August, possibly giving the Tigers a six-man rotation to ease the burden on starters such as rookie Justin Verlander and 41-year-old Kenny Rogers.

"Dmitri has really helped us by swinging the bat well and has been like a new, left-handed bat for us," Dombrowski said. "Mike is not far from coming back, and that's encouraging.

"Dmitri and Mike are like two players we might've traded for, so it helps us not feel pressured into making a move. We're open-minded to anything, but we'll only make a deal if it makes sense for us now and in the future."

For years, the only decision the Tigers had to make as the trading deadline approached was whether to trade veterans for prospects — or to stand pat with their awful team.

Detroit hasn't had a winning record since 1993 and lost an average of 100 games in recent years. This season, things are different, and Dombrowski is enjoying it.

"Obviously, you want to be in the position to win," he said. "It's taken us a while to get to this point after being in the position previously where we were looking to get young talent for the most part in trades.

"You're always worried about the future, but you also want to win now, and balancing those two desires is part of the job."