Atlanta pursued a trade for right-hander Sonny Gray before the Athletics dealt him to the Yankees at this past Monday’s non-waiver deadline, but he wasn’t the Braves’ prime target among controllable pitchers. Rather, the Braves had greater interest in Tigers righty Michael Fulmer, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link).
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While the Tigers ended up retaining Fulmer, they could revisit trade talks involving the 24-year-old during the offseason, suggests Rosenthal. The Braves would presumably still covet Fulmer, as would many other teams, considering he ranks among the game’s best young starters. Fulmer fired 159 innings of 3.06 ERA ball en route to American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and he has also notched strong results in his sophomore campaign. Thus far, Fulmer has recorded a 3.59 ERA, 6.41 K/9, 1.99 BB/9 and a 49.7 percent ground-ball rate across 140 1/3 frames. Although he’s not exactly a strikeout machine, Fulmer has offset that by seldom allowing hard contact on balls put in play – he ranks a solid 26th among starters in infield fly percentage (10.2), and hitters have posted a meager .280 wOBA against him (compared to a .296 xwOBA, per Statcast).
Unfortunately for Fulmer, he hasn’t gotten through 2017 unscathed. He dealt with shoulder bursitis earlier in the year and landed on the disabled list Thursday with ulnar neuritis in his right elbow. The Braves, though, view him as less of an injury risk than Gray, and they also greatly value Fulmer’s team control. Fulmer hasn’t even gone through arbitration yet – that will happen as a Super Two player after the 2018 season – whereas Gray is on track to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
Considering his combination of performance, youth and club control, Fulmer would be at the center of a bidding war if the Tigers were to place him on the block in the winter. While any team would struggle to pry Fulmer out of Detroit, the Braves might be in the best position to make it happen. They have the premier farm system in baseball, according to recent assessments from Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription required and recommended), and may be willing to move prospect capital for young, proven commodities in an effort to leave their rebuild behind. At 50-58, the Braves are on their way to a fourth straight sub-.500 season.