- The Tigers “haven’t engaged in any kind of [extension] conversations” with Nicholas Castellanos this spring, GM Al Avila told MLB.com’s Jason Beck yesterday. There’s been no formal offer or even any formal discussions on the matter with Castellanos’ agent, according to Avila, though he said the possibility of a deal is “obviously… in our minds.” Castellanos has expressed a desire to remain in Detroit on a long-term deal, though the rebuilding Tigers will undoubtedly view him as a possible trade asset this summer as well. If the two sides can eventually find a common ground in terms of price, however, Avila said he wouldn’t rule out an in-season extension. “He hasn’t said anything to the contrary,” Avila said of Castellanos being willing to negotiate beyond Opening Day. “I think he would be open to it.”
- The loss of Michael Fulmer to Tommy John surgery has opened up a potential path to the Majors for Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull, writes Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. Detroit skipper Ron Gardenhire has previously advocated for Turnbull as a viable rotation candidate, Fenech notes, and the 26-year-old righty could find himself vying with southpaw Daniel Norris for a rotation spot early in the season. The 2014 second-rounder made his MLB debut in 2018, and though he was tagged for 11 runs in 16 1/3 innings, Turnbull only yielded 17 hits and four walks to go along with 15 strikeouts. This spring, Turnbull has held opponents to three runs on 13 hits and a pair of walks with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings. The Tigers also have Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyson Ross and Matt Moore lined up for rotation jobs, and it’s possible that Norris (or perhaps Turnbull) opens the year in a multi-inning relief role.
TODAY: Fulmer will indeed undergo the procedure, he tells reporters including Evan Woodberry of MLive.com (via Twitter).
YESTERDAY: Tigers righty Michael Fulmer has received a recommendation that he undergo Tommy John surgery, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports on Twitter. He’d stand to miss the entire 2019 season and in all likelihood a portion of the 2020 campaign as well.
Fulmer’s medical status has been a bit of a mystery of late, but this news comes as a surprise. He had been shut down recently, purportedly to work on mechanical issues tied to his recovery from last season’s knee surgery, but obviously was dealing with something else entirely. Fulmer had shown a worrying loss of velocity this spring after turning in a subpar, injury-marred 2018 campaign.
It’s not yet certain that Fulmer will go under the knife, but that seems to be far and away the likeliest outcome. Per the Tigers, both a team doctor and noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews have already recommended that Fulmer receive a full replacement of his ulnar collateral ligament.
This is hardly the news anyone wanted for Fulmer, who reached his 26th birthday just days ago. Fortunately for the righty, he already agreed to a $2.8MM salary for the coming season. On the bright side for the club, they won the arbitration hearing and thus avoided a larger payout.
In all likelihood, the Tigers will end up paying Fulmer that $2.8MM both this season and next, while hoping he’ll be able to contribute by the middle of the 2020 campaign. Fulmer is controllable in 2021 and 2022 as well. His earning power in those years will depend upon what he’s able to do in ’20; it’ll unquestionably be diminished by the lengthy absence.
The Detroit organization has thus far centered its rebuilding effort on young pitching, with a series of interesting arms moving up through the ranks. It seemed through his first two seasons in the majors that Fulmer might be a veteran anchor for the next great Tigers staff — or, instead, a big trade chip who’d reel in loads of young talent.
That outlook already changed last year, as Fulmer struggled to a 4.69 ERA in 132 1/3 innings. During his excellent debut campaign and solid follow-up effort, Fulmer’s unexciting strikeout numbers were explained away by some. The line was that his overpowering arsenal and ability to induce weak contact made it unnecessary for Fulmer to rack of Ks. The narrative shifted over the course of the 2018 season. Even as hard contact rose (39.5%), his groundball rate (44.2%) and home run suppression (1.29 per nine innings, 14.5% HR/FB rate) dove despite steady 96 mph velocity readings on his fastball.
Perhaps Fulmer would have found his way back to being a high-quality starter had he not encountered knee issues that ultimately resulted in a meniscus procedure. The connection between that joint, his reduced velo this spring, and his problematic elbow isn’t completely clear, but it certainly seems plausible that all are interrelated. He’ll now have a lengthy absence to work through the varying health issues. If all goes well, Fulmer could return to be a quality hurler once more.
- Gordon Beckham spoke with Chris McCosky of the Detroit News about his transformation from lauded top prospect to a journeyman bouncing from minor league deal to minor league deal. In camp with the Tigers on a minor league pact, Beckham was candid in discussing his ups and downs and many of the difficult moments he’s faced in his career. Struggling for the first time in his career at the big league level with the White Sox, Beckham said the pressure to meet expectations “mentally crushed” him. He had even weighed whether he’d continue his playing career if he failed to land a big league job this spring, reflecting that it’s “crazy to think I have to make this decision.” However, as McCosky outlines, he actually may not have to make that decision. Manager Ron Gardenhire has been impressed by Beckham this spring, spoken fondly of the veteran infielder, and expressed a desire for additional veteran middle-infield depth. All of that seemingly bodes well for Beckham, who entered play Monday hitting .314/.429/.429 in 42 plate appearances this spring.
With each bump and bruise this time of year comes the potential for missed time during the regular season, perhaps especially so for those late signees getting delayed starts to their Spring Training. As Opening Day fast approaches, let’s get the lowdown on a few injury reports from camp…
- Rockies righty Antonio Senzatela has an infected blister on his right heel and will be out “a while,” per manager Bud Black (via the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders). Senzatela, 24, was competing for the final spot in Colorado’s rotation with Chad Bettis, who now appears to have the role on lock. The Venezuelan-born righty had made just eight starts above the high-A level before opening the 2017 season with the team, and again played a major role in the club’s wild card-run last season. His fastball-heavy repertoire is devoid, at this point, of a true swing-and-miss pitch, so perhaps the 6’1 righty could indeed use further minor league seasoning. Still, despite some sophomore regression, Senzatela’s been reasonably effective thus far in his young MLB career, and the Rockies are almost certain to require his services at some point this season.
- Padres righty Jacob Nix has been shut down with right arm soreness, per MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell. Nix, 23, shares with Senzatela the same allergy to missing bats, but was a legitimate candidate for the fifth spot in a wide-open San Diego rotation. Once the victim of a too-clever Astros draft scheme, in which the team agreed to terms with the young righty but was forced to renege after a bonus-pool shortage resulting from the Brady Aiken fiasco, Nix has long flashed top-of-the-rotation tools but struggled with consistency. Last season’s debut was a disaster: the 6’5 righty was torched to the tune of a 7.02 ERA/5.83 FIP with 8 HRs allowed in just 42 1/3 IP. He, too, is due for a longer minors simmer, having made just one start above the AA level in his young career thus far.
- Bryce Harper is day-to-day with ankle swelling, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan (via Twitter). Harper was hit by a pinch in yesterday’s Phillies game, though even by this morning the swelling had reduced. All tests came back negative, per Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter), while a number of reporters quote manager Gabe Kapler as projecting confidence in Bryce’s ability to be ready by Opening Day. All in all, this appears to be much ado about nothing, but as is the case with any injury, it’s worth tracking for aftereffect. Due to the late date of his signing, Harper has seen limited action in spring thus far, going 0-5 with three strikeouts, three walks, and a stolen base, though the focus here is obviously not yet on production. The Phillies season opens less than two weeks from today with their home opener against the Braves on Thursday, March 28th.
- Tigers presumptive right fielder Nick Castellanos remains out of the lineup for the time being, per MLB.com’s Jason Beck (via Twitter). Castellanos is likely to return to Grapefruit League play within a couple of days. He was seen taking batting practice in the cage today and at least provided cursory affirmation that tests on his bruised left hand revealed no significant damage, per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News (via Twitter). Castellanos has been bandied about often here at MLBTR this winter as a trade candidate, which appears likely to continue as there have been no extension talks between the right-handed slugger and the club.
- The Braves may be without their ace until “mid/late April,” per the Athletic’s David O’Brien (via Twitter). Mike Foltynewicz has missed most of Spring Training with a sore elbow after a breakout season. Folty was stellar in 2018 as he went 13-10 with a 2.85 ERA (3.37 FIP) over 183 frames. There was much speculation about the Braves bolstering their rotation this winter, either via free agency or by bundling their prospects in a trade, but they mostly hung tight despite losing Anibal Sanchez – who enjoyed a different variety of 2018 breakout – to the rival Nationals. The Braves have plenty of depth to cover, but much of their standing pat must have been predicated on a healthy Folynewicz leading the charge again in 2019. Atlanta will lean on Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman, and Sean Newcomb to hold down the fort until Folty’s return.
March 15: Fulmer further discussed the shut down with McCosky, stating that he’s not sure how long it’ll take to build back up. As McCosky explains in greater detail, the right-hander had been wearing a brace on his surgically repaired knee that has since been swapped out for a compression sleeve.
“Maybe it was a little restrictive,” said Fulmer in reference to the brace. “Today was a step in the right direction as far as using my lower body and trying to drive toward home plate, as opposed to basically not using my lower body at all.”
Fulmer’s fastball velocity this spring had been hovering in the 90 to 92 mph range, per McCosky, which is a far cry from the 95.5 mph he’s averaged throughout his career. At present, there’s no defined timetable for Fulmer to be up to full strength, but it seems likely he’ll open the season on the injured list.
March 14: The Tigers have shut down righty Michael Fulmer, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News reports (Twitter links). Manager Ron Gardenhire says that Fulmer “took a step back to refine his lower body mechanics.”
Typically, pitchers only hit the shelf in mid-March if they are dealing with an arm problem or other injury. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, though it could be that the team sees some risk in allowing Fulmer to keep throwing. He underwent knee surgery last fall and has shown reduced velocity thus far this spring.
Fulmer, who’s slated to earn $2.8MM after losing an arbitration hearing, is a key asset for the rebuilding Detroit organization. While the team’s outlook for the coming season is poor regardless, the hope had been that Fulmer would get back on track after a rough 2018 season.
There’s still time for Fulmer to re-discover his established ceiling. He turns 26 tomorrow and has three more arb-eligible seasons beyond 2019. First, he’ll need to work through the issues that the club has identified.
As things stand, says Gardenhire, there’s “no timetable on when [Fulmer is] going to get back on the mound.” That leaves the door open for Daniel Norris or another hurler to earn a shot. Matt Hall, Ryan Carpenter, and Spencer Turnbull are among the other potential candidates with some MLB experience and 40-man spots.
- Baseball decisions can be tough to understand at times. Cameron Rupp’s recent history presents a bit of a puzzle, as Chris McCosky of the Detroit News explores. The Tigers’ newly added backstop played in at least half of the Phillies games annually from 2015 through 2017, producing just-below-average, power-driven offense. Rupp’s framing fell apart in 2017, but he had been a decent performer in that metric previously and otherwise was not a problem behind the dish. Despite being relatively youthful and continuing to turn in solid work at the plate, though, Rupp never got a call to the big leagues last year and is already on to his second organization this spring.
“There’s been no talking” between the Tigers and Nick Castellanos’ representatives about a possible contract extension, the slugger told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News and other reporters. Castellanos reiterated that he would love to spend the rest of his career in Detroit, and stated “I think both sides know a conversation would be welcome” about a long-term pact.
This isn’t the first time Castellanos has discussed his willingness to discuss an extension, and of course there’s still plenty of time before Opening Day (or beyond, if Castellanos is open to in-season negotiations) for the Tigers to begin talks. That said, the Tigers have discussed extensions with Castellanos in the past, so the heretofore lack of negotiations just months before the right fielder is scheduled to hit free agency is rather telling. Between the lack of talks and the months of trade rumors swirling around Castellanos, it certainly seems as if the Tigers see him more as a trade chip rather than as a building block of the next Detroit contender.
Though Castellanos is still young (he turned 27 earlier this week) and has hit a very solid .285/.336/.495 over the last three seasons, he has thus far been a bat-only player over his first six years in the big leagues. Despite posting a 121 wRC+ and OPS since 2016, Castellanos only has 7.0 fWAR total over those three seasons due to very poor glovework as both as third baseman and right fielder. While Castellanos only became a full-time outfielder in 2018 and is athletic enough to potentially become at least passable defensively, the Tigers may not want to bet (in the form of a contract extension) on such an improvement until they actually see better results. Detroit already has at least $162MM tied up in Miguel Cabrera through the 2023 season, and committing more money to Castellanos could result in a clog at the first base/DH positions if first base duty is eventually in Castellanos’ future.
This lack of defensive utility is of obvious concern to Castellanos as he approaches free agency, due to both the lack of free agent activity in general over the last two winters, and the particularly chilled market for first base/DH types. However, Castellanos’ limitations have also been a reason why there hasn’t been too much trade interest in his services (of course, the Tigers’ reported high asking price is also clearly a major factor).
If there is a limited market for Castellanos as a both a future free agent and as a current trade chip, McCosky suggests that there could be some opportunity here for a shorter-term arrangement between the Tigers and Castellanos, perhaps from a starting point of a three- or four-year deal worth $10MM-$11MM per season. Such a deal, as McCosky notes, would cover the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, perhaps allowing Castellanos to enter free agency when the conditions are more favorable to a player of his profile. Such a deal could be attractive to the Tigers as a relative bargain for a good hitter in his prime years, though if the club doesn’t really plan to start spending (and pushing to contend) until 2021, keeping Castellanos for two more seasons even at something of a discount might not fit Detroit’s plans.
Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer was one of the majors’ hardest-throwing starters from 2016-18, but his velocity has been anything but imposing early in 2019. As has been the case throughout the spring, Fulmer’s fastball sat in the 88 to 92 mph range during a 44-pitch outing Saturday, leading Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press to note that the soon-to-be 26-year-old “didn’t look right.” The Tigers aren’t confident Fulmer’s velocity will return, writes Fenech, which is an eyebrow-raising observation given that he’s one of the rebuilding team’s most valuable players and trade chips. But it’s worth noting Fulmer’s still in the early stages of his comeback from right knee surgery, and he and pitching coach Rick Anderson expressed confidence Saturday that his velocity will return, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News relays. If so, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year figures to stand a far better chance of rebounding from a disappointing, injury-shortened 2017 – a 132 1/3-inning campaign in which he logged career-worst numbers (4.69 ERA/4.52 FIP with 7.48 K/9 and 3.13 BB/9).
The Tigers have struck a deal to acquire veteran backstop Cameron Rupp from the Giants, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter). Cash considerations will go back in return.
Rupp had signed on with the San Francisco organization in early December. He was among several competitors for a reserve job at the MLB level but evidently was not likely to earn a nod. Rene Rivera, Stephen Vogt, and Aramis Garcia are all still competing to back up Buster Posey.
It doesn’t seem particularly likely that Rupp will break camp with the Tigers, either. The team appears to be set with Grayson Greiner and John Hicks at the MLB level and already has veterans Bobby Wilson and Hector Sanchez in camp, though the deal could suggest that there’s a desire to take a look at alternatives.
Rupp has never been valued particularly for his defensive chops and doesn’t reach base at a very appealing rate. But he does have over a thousand MLB plate appearances under his belt and is a nice source of power for a backstop.