It’s unseemly and getting absurd. Hey, the Tigers have no one to blame but themselves, as they’ve gone from Contender to potential Carcass in half a season, but the eagerness by some to ravish the roster is ludicrous.
There’s a growing sentiment in baseball – and among some Tigers fans – that simply rebuilding isn’t enough, that the team must be stripped to the foundation and sold like copper wiring in a structural tear-down. Trying to trade J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Justin Wilson and Ian Kinsler makes sense, as long as GM Al Avila is actually “trading” and not “dumping.” But when Michael Fulmer’s name gets tossed into random rumors, this goes from sensible to silly.
This is what happens when a franchise that competed for a decade now cracks and sways, yet still carries the fourth-highest payroll in the majors. Fans get tired of false hope, and the team gets weary of peddling it. The Tigers sit at 39-48, their worst All-Star break record since 2003, and almost assuredly will make moves by the July 31 trade deadline. No one disputes it or disagrees with it.
But please, stop with the Fulmer nonsense. I get that no one is untouchable these days, technically. Verlander is not untouchable. Miguel Cabrera would be tradeable if not for the $182 million remaining on his contract, as well as injuries and the worst statistical season of his career.
It could be an especially difficult market for sellers, with contending teams wary of big contracts, which is why the Cubs and others reportedly have inquired about Fulmer. Anyone can ask but there’s no indication the Tigers will seriously entertain Fulmer offers, and I highly doubt they will.
The Tigers should maintain some dignity in this process, if that’s still possible. Cabrera’s frustration bubbled over recently when he said, “I don’t like to come here every day and hear, ‘Are these guys going to get traded?’” From a human standpoint, I understand his honesty, even if fans don’t want to hear it. From a logistics standpoint, Avila is obligated to take this as far as he can, to draw the best possible offers.
Everyone not named Mahtook has been mentioned in rumors, but the Fulmer murmurs are ridiculous. He’s precisely the type of player the Tigers would love to add, if they’re extraordinarily lucky. He’s 24 and was selected to his first All-Star Game after winning AL Rookie of the Year. He’s cheap, sturdy and under team control for five more years. Of course he’d draw significant value in return -- and against odds, maybe in a few years, one of those prospects might become the next Michael Fulmer.
Fulmer a rarity
It’s not remotely worth the risk, not with this guy. Industry observers cite the Chris Sale trade in the offseason, when the White Sox plucked four prized prospects from the Red Sox for the 28-year-old ace. You’re goofy if you think Fulmer would command the same haul as Sale, who had an affordable contract and is one of the three best pitchers in baseball. Now the White Sox sit in last place with the non-guaranteed hope that youngsters Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech could fuel a future resurgence.
The Tigers did the same thing two years ago, dealing David Price and Yoenis Cespedes for top prospects. They hit big with Fulmer, but Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd are struggling mightily, which is the norm for young players.
Fulmer is the rarity, pitching at least six innings in 16 of 17 starts with a 3.19 ERA. His numbers are great, yet they don’t approach Sale, who’s 11-4 with a 2.75 ERA. It’s funny the way that works – starting pitchers in their prime have a way of stabilizing first-place teams. Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski knows it, just as he knew it here in Detroit. The first-place Washington Nationals know it, led by the incomparable Max Scherzer.
In retrospect, after Scherzer turned down the Tigers’ reported $144-million offer in 2014, Dombrowski should’ve considered trading him. But the Tigers were in the midst of World Series contention and owner Mike Ilitch wasn’t signing off on any sell-off. Frankly, if Fulmer were further along, in the final year of his contract as Scherzer was, you’d consider a trade. But he isn’t, and you don’t.
Fulmer is the piece you build around, not the piece you use to collect more pieces you hope can become pieces you build around. That’s why you shop Martinez and Wilson and others, even though it’s tougher to get a hefty return.
Look at Houston, uh, hello?
Sorry, Al Avila will have to prove his savviness with flawed trade chips. He doesn’t get to dangle a prime chunk like Fulmer to land a bounty that any GM could get, and in the process, buy free years of development.
But it worked in Houston, right? At a heavy cost. The Astros dumped and developed, and after losing at least 106 games three straight years (2011-13), they have the second-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers. The Astros drafted well and stayed patient, unfettered by actual expectations. The Phillies, another famous tear-down, build-up franchise, won the World Series in 2008, but since 2012 are 117 games below .500.
You can’t ignore the Tigers’ unique circumstances. Before Ilitch passed away in February, there was less chance of a tear-down. His dying wish was to win a World Series and let others worry about the future, and who could deny him that pursuit? It was admirable, if not fiscally responsible, which is how the Tigers ended up with more unwieldy contracts for Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann.
It’s absolutely necessary for the Tigers to retool, rebuild, choose your word. Picking up pieces for the future should be the goal. Getting picked clean of a guy like Fulmer? Irrational and excessive, and not a legitimate option.