The Dodgers have been oft-linked to Manny Machado in recent weeks, but Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the team is also “aggressively” pursuing Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer. Just how receptive the Tigers are to trade offers for their top starter remains unclear.
Certainly, Detroit will have to at least entertain offers on virtually any player on the roster, as the organization’s rebuild is still in its early stages. But the Tigers are in a more difficult spot with Fulmer, whose 2017 season ended due to ulnar nerve transposition surgery in his right arm. Thus far in 2018, Fulmer hasn’t been nearly as good as he was in his 2016 Rookie of the Year season or for the vast majority of the 2017 season before a series of awful starts leading up to that surgical procedure.
Through 94 1/3 innings in 2018, Fulmer is sitting on a 4.20 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.05 HR/9 and a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate. More troubling than his bottom-line numbers, though, is the quality of contact he’s allowed. Both Fangraphs and Statcast indicate that Fulmer’s hard-contact rate has soared by 10 percent this season. The average exit velocity of a ball put in play against Fulmer has leaped from 85.6 mph in 2017 to 88.8 mph in 2018.
There are certainly positives surrounding Fulmer’s season as well, of course. His average fastball velocity of 95.8 mph is right in line with his pre-surgery levels. His strikeout percentage (20.4), swinging-strike rate (10.3 percent) and chase rate (34.2 percent) are all either at or above his career-high levels. Fulmer looks to be in good health, and if he can sharpen his pitch location a bit, there’s reason to believe he can take some significant strides forward.
For the Tigers, though, that all boils down to the fact that Fulmer’s value simply isn’t at its peak at the moment. And given that he’s under club control for another four and a half seasons, there’s no need to rush into a trade unless the Dodgers (or any other club) bowl them over with a package from which they can’t walk away. Conversely, it’s tougher for an interested party to make that type of offer when there’s some uncertainty surrounding the pitcher’s current performance level.