It has been made clear that the Detroit Tigers are rebuilding. Far from what they were in their prime years, the Tigers have already started the process by shipping Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros last August. Now, they seem to be willing to trade young right-hander Michael Fulmer, albeit with a big price tag.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the San Diego Padres have checked in with the Tigers. The Padres have been tied to him before, when the Padres almost traded Justin Upton to the New York Mets for a package that included Fulmer. However, it seems like general manager A.J. Preller is still interested in picking up the promising right-hander to insert into Andy Green‘s rotation.
Fulmer is in the midst of a down year (at least for him), compiling a 3-7 record paired with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 94 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old also has seen an uptick in home runs allowed as his HR/9 rate is at a 1.05, higher than his 0.71 HR/9 in 2017, while his BB/9 sits at a 2.86, again a slight uptick from his 2017 BB/9 of 2.19. However, Fulmer is still striking out batters at a healthy clip shown by his 7.63 K/9, a full point ahead of his 2017 K/9 rate of 6.23. Fulmer’s low BABIP of .289 shows that Lady Luck has smiled upon him at least a little bit this season, but a FIP of 4.03 and a xFIP of 4.02 show that his ERA is slightly inflated.
So, with Fulmer in the midst of a down year, why should San Diego pursue him? There are actually many reasons why as a matter of fact. Fulmer showed initial promise by taking home the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2016, ahead of other rookies such as Gary Sanchez and Tyler Naquin, while also earning his first All-Star nod in 2017 before undergoing elbow surgery. Fulmer has said that he is fully healthy and has shown no setbacks due to his injury, so his health should be of little concern. More importantly, Fulmer could receive advice from pitching coach Darren Balsley, who is practically worshiped as a guru by pitchers around the league for his talents in making the slight but necessary tweaks to a pitcher’s mechanics and/or repertoires.
Balsley’s magic can be seen through the likes of current Padres pitchers like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates. Veteran pitchers like Chris Young and Ian Kennedy have praised him for the work he did during their tenures with the team. However, Fulmer is an intriguing pitcher for Balsley because of what the former has done with Tyson Ross. Ross was one of the most underrated pitchers before thoracic outlet syndrome caused him to miss his 2016 season and struggle with the Texas Rangers in 2017. After resigning with the Padres, Ross went back to work with Balsley and, as a result, has become one of the more attractive options on the trade market today. Fulmer fits the profile of Ross to an extent as a pitcher coming off of surgery and would greatly benefit from Balsley’s guidance.
Detroit’s front office have let teams know that it will cost a pretty penny for the services of Fulmer, and San Diego certainly have the pieces to afford him. The Padres could lead a prospect package with Cal Quantrill, the eighth overall pick in 2016. Quantrill has had his struggles so far, evidenced by a 4.31 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP, but he has shown immense promise despite this. Quantrill’s value can be seen in his advanced numbers, as a 8.32 K/9 and a 2.77 BB/9 show that he can still strike batters out while limiting walks, while a .331 BABIP and a 3.59 FIP indicate that his ERA should be going down sooner rather than later.
Detroit is also in need of a prospect who could play first base as superstar Miguel Cabrera will (unfortunately) not be able to play forever and MLB Pipeline lists only one prospect in their Top 30 prospects who could fill in at first base with Reynaldo Rivera at Number 21, and he currently plays at Class-A West Michigan. Enter Josh Naylor, who MLB Pipeline has as the 14th ranked prospect in the Padres system. Naylor is currently making waste to Double-A pitching, compiling a .313/.391/.466 batting line while hitting 10 home runs and 54 RBI. What is more impressive is Naylor’s ability to work an at-bat, evidenced by his 36 walks and 42 strikeouts and backed up with a 10.3 BB/9 and a 12.0 K/9. Naylor has fielded first base well and has expanded to left field, but he currently has no place to play on the Major League roster with Eric Hosmer at first base and a plethora of outfielders ahead of him. Because of this, Naylor is a good addition to the package in order to give him the opportunity to have ample playing time in The Show, which he wouldn’t get in San Diego.
If the Tigers are looking for more (which they will), they will be looking for a player who could eventually slot into the designated hitter spot. Catcher Austin Allen, ranked 27th by Pipeline, easily fits the profile. The offensive-minded backstop is currently hitting .315/.373/.568 while mashing 15 home runs and 39 RBI. Of course, many of the main complaints about his offensive approach have followed him to Double-A as well. His strikeout rate is still far too high (19.1 K/9) and he struggles with walks (7.3 BB/9) while his receiving skills are a work in progress. Another main complaint is that his catch-and-throw skills need work, evidenced by him throwing out 19.1 percent of base stealers across three seasons in the minors. Allen has certainly put in work to fix those nuances of his game, as he has thrown out 38 percent of base stealers so far this season and has lowered his K/9 rate from 2017, albeit in exchange for a drop in BB/9. Allen could play well at the DH slot and will be a serviceable catcher for either team.
A 3-1 deal is solid, but in the case of the Tigers wanting one more “wild card” type prospect, a player like Mason Thompson or a Reggie Lawson is a fine option for a final addition. Thompson and Lawson each ooze potential and, if they tap into it, can become solid pitchers in a major league rotation, but San Diego can afford to surrender a prospect like them due to the sheer amount of players in their system.
The Padres can also afford to trade these prospects for Fulmer at the MLB Trade Deadline because they still have the pieces to reload their farm system. The aforementioned trio of Hand, Yates and Ross are hot commodities on the trade deadline and are likely to be dealt for prospects. Preller is asking for top prospects for Hand while Yates and Ross would fetch at least a couple of intriguing players, much like the 2017 trade of Ryan Buchter, Brandon Maurer, and Trevor Cahill that netted Travis Wood, Esteury Ruiz and Matt Strahm.
Fulmer will be a good pitcher to have in the rotation as he is young enough to help the team when their playoff window eventually opens. As he is a Super Two player, Fulmer has four years of arbitration instead of the normal three, giving whatever team he is own control for the next four years of his career. Plus, if Balsley continues his string of good work with pitchers, Fulmer could recapture his 2016-2017 form and be an ace that leads the team.
Both teams win in this scenario. The Tigers get a promising starter in Quantrill, a first baseman in Josh Naylor, a catcher/DH in Austin Allen, and potentially a wild card pitcher in Thompson/Lawson, while the Padres get a pitcher who has the potential to become the ace of the staff.