Top Tigers starter Michael Fulmer will undergo ulnar nerve transposition surgery in his right elbow tomorrow, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters (Twitter link via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press). Katie Stang of the Athletic reported earlier today that the procedure was a possibility for Fulmer (Twitter link). MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets that the procedure comes with a three- to four-month recovery period, which should put Fulmer on track to be back up to strength prior to Spring Training 2018.
Fulmer, 24, won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 on the heels of a tremendous 3.03 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 49.1 percent ground-ball rate in 159 innings out of the Tigers’ rotation. The former Mets farmhand — Fulmer was acquired in the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes swap with New York — largely replicated that success to open the 2017 campaign. However, over his final seven starts of the season, Fulmer allowed five or more runs on five occasions, causing his earned run average to balloon from to 3.06 to its now season-ending mark of 3.83. The injury certainly explains that rough stretch, as Fulmer himself has recently cited numbness and tingling in his fingers when describing the reasons for a DL placement.
While an arm-related surgical procedure for a top young starter always carries a certain level of concern, there’s no indication at present that there’s a significant level of worry moving forward. Fulmer has time to get ready for Spring Training, and the Tigers certainly aren’t playing for much in 2017 after trading away the majority of their veteran core over the past year. For comparison, Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom also had surgery to re-position the ulnar nerve in his right arm last September and has returned to toss 188 1/3 innings thus far in 2018 (though certainly every injury situation has its own intricacies).
Fulmer had been a speculative trade piece for the rebuilding Tigers, though the chances of that have long seemed somewhat slim. News of an arm operation seems to further dampen that possibility, as Detroit is unlikely to sell a player that it controls for another five seasons when his value is at a relatively diminished level. Fulmer won’t be eligible for arbitration this winter, though he’ll very likely qualify as a Super Two player following the 2018 campaign.