Between a down year in 2018 and then Tommy John surgery in March 2019, Michael Fulmer has fallen off the radar for many fans outside of the Motor City. Yet it wasn’t long ago that Fulmer was one the most sought-after trade chips in baseball, hotly pursued by multiple teams in the aftermath of a Rookie Of The Year season in 2016, and a strong sophomore year that saw him post a 3.83 ERA, 2.85 K/BB rate, and 6.2 K/9 over 164 2/3 innings in 2017, though Fulmer’s year was cut short by elbow surgery.
It was during that 2017 season that the Tigers finally went into full rebuild mode, trading Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, and others before the trading period finally halted at the end of August. Fulmer received plenty of attention from trade suitors, though he wasn’t as obvious of a moveable asset given that he still had so many years of team control remaining.
Nonetheless, the Tigers received some sizeable offers for his services, and according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, these offers included two blockbusters for future All-Stars. The Tigers reportedly declined a three-player package from the Cubs that would have seen Javier Baez head to Detroit in exchange for Fulmer, while the Astros were willing to give up Alex Bregman for both Fulmer and left-hander Justin Wilson.
It makes for an eye-popping case of hindsight for the Tigers and their fans, considering how the three principal figures of those offers have since performed. Baez and Bregman are simply two of the game’s best players, each collecting All-Star appearances in both 2018 and 2019, while Baez finished second in NL MVP voting last season while Bregman racked up a fifth-place finish in the 2018 AL MVP race and also played a big role in the Astros’ 2017 World Series title.
Fulmer, by contrast, hasn’t matched his early potential due to injuries and perhaps simply some statistical regression. Whether he can regain his former front-of-the-rotation status is a question that can’t be answered until at least a few months into the 2020 season (or perhaps until 2021, if Fulmer is one of many pitchers who under-performs in their first several starts back from TJ surgery).
There were some rumors about a Cubs/Tigers trade involving Fulmer back in 2017, prior to Chicago’s acquisition of Jose Quintana from the White Sox, though Detroit reportedly wanted both Baez and Ian Happ as part of a Fulmer trade package. Bregman and Fulmer were never linked in any trade talks, and one wonders if the Astros only floated the idea fairly early in the year, since Bregman was installed as the team’s everyday third baseman from Opening Day onward. Needless to say, Bregman was no longer on the table by the time Houston and Detroit collaborated on their actual 2017 blockbuster, the championship-deciding deal that sent Verlander to the Astros on August 31.
In fairness to the Tigers, every front office has countless examples of instances where they missed out on a trade or a signing that would have been a steal. Likewise, from the Cubs’ and Astros’ perspective, every team can cite numerous cases where they lucked out in not making a transaction. But the Fulmer situation looms large, Fenech notes, given how Detroit has been unable to maximize the return on several of their top trade assets during their rebuild.
Several scouts from around the league weren’t very impressed by the four total prospects Detroit received from the Cubs and Braves in trade deadline swaps of Nicolas Castellanos and Shane Greene. The Tigers also weren’t able to trade Matt Boyd, perhaps their most valuable trade chip, at all. While “multiple executives indicated Boyd’s trade value will never be as high as it was at 3:59 p.m. on Wednesday” prior to the trade deadline, it seems that Detroit’s asking price on Boyd was simply too exorbitant. One National League exec told Fenech that the Tigers’ demands were “borderline comical,” and an AL executive describing Detroit’s front office as “impossible to deal with.”
The Tigers also asked for a lot in their attempts to trade Greene. For instance, Detroit asked the Nationals for top infield prospect Carter Kieboom, and Fenech also reports that the Nationals turned down an offer for Luis Garcia, another prized young infielder.