So, what’s one MVP award, one Cy Young Award, and two Cy Young runner-up finishes get you these days? A pat on the back, old man. A pat on the back.
In a vacuum Justin Verlander seems like he should be one of the hottest commodities on the trade market, if the Tigers turn out to sellers. And they should, regardless of team meetings and two victories against the last-place Blue Jays.
Who could a contending team want more than an ace pitcher with a 3.39 ERA in 16 playoff games, including three World Series appearances?
Michael Fulmer. That’s who. At least, a smart team would.
It seems you can’t read a report about the Tigers without the two names linked.
A glance at MLB Trade Rumors on Sunday night confirms as much: “The Braves, on the hunt for starting pitching, sent a top scout to Detroit this weekend to watch Tigers right-handers Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com.”
This comes not long after a report by Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons, who noted the Cubs asked about Fulmer and starter Daniel Norris but were not overly interested in Verlander.
That is championship building done right and a good guideline for the Tigers to follow.
The knock on Verlander this season is twofold. While he has a borderline Hall of Fame resume, the 34-year-old is saddled with a 4.66 ERA and about $70 million owed on his contract for the remainder of this year plus 2018 and 2019. Should Verlander finish in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019, he would be owed an additional $22 million in 2020.
Should Verlander finish with his current FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 4.33, it would be the second worst he has put up during a full season of his career. Verlander is offering a higher rate of walks than normal, while putting up approximately career-average strikeout numbers.
In short, Verlander is an ace only in memories, and teams would be wise to approach acquiring him cautiously. This isn’t the Verlander of 2016. His career is moving toward its sunset.
Fulmer is quite a contrast. The 24-year-old is repeating his ERA of a season ago, 3.06 exactly, and he’s limiting walks and increasing velocity. Fulmer’s career, a little more than 13 months old, is yet to even enter its peak.
All the while he’s being paid near league minimum, not able to enter arbitration until 2019 or free agency before 2023.
“There’s no question he’s been our best pitcher this year,” Ausmus said Saturday after being asked if Fulmer was the new ace of his staff, rather than Verlander. “If an ace is the best pitcher in a given season, then this year he’s the ace.”
So it makes sense a contending team that hopes to keep the window open for a while would prefer Fulmer over Verlander.
During their peak years, the Tigers were the kind of team seeking a Fulmer rather than a Verlander. They kicked a championship window wide open by acquiring a player like Max Scherzer just as pundits were decrying an aging team who’d have to trade its star players away.
Today, their best hope is just to start that process over again. That probably means keeping Fulmer, and hoping the young pitching prospects will develop in a timely manner. Meanwhile, trading the likes of J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, and maybe even Ian Kinsler could bring in the next great crop of young, cost-controlled players.
Had you asked me last year, I would have thought for sure Verlander would be traded. This year I suspect when August comes he’s still putting on the Old English D. Just about any deal to clear the money owed him off the books should be acceptable, though.
At the same time, they would be wise to hang up the phone on any GM seeking Fulmer. He should be considered the new building block for this organization.
Although being stuck with poor contracts like Verlander’s will force the Tigers to pay for past mistakes, players like Fulmer can lead them to a better future.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.