If you’re a loyal reader of my blog — or you just feel sorry and read because you’re family or friends, you already know where I stand with this Detroit Tigers team. And you know who I think deserves the blame. But with the midway point of the season behind us and the trade deadline looming on July 31, it’s time to examine what the Tigers should do when it comes to their most prized (and valuable) possession.
J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila are as good as gone — not much to say about them. Justin Upton can go if he chooses to — his contract prevents the team from moving him without his permission. Victor Martinez is too old, too slow, and has suffered a steep decline in skill for anyone to take him. Miguel Cabrera’s contract is an albatross and it’d take a minor miracle for the Tigers to find a taker for the All-Star slugger. Justin Verlander would be a great addition to a contender, if the Tigers agree to eat a percentage of the former Cy Young winner and MVP’s contract. Jordan Zimmermann is likely only going somewhere as part of a bigger deal that lands his new team a young stud with a friendly contract and financial flexibility — and that’s a perfect segue to my point: Michael Fulmer is the piece to the Tigers’ puzzle that no one wants to even consider giving up. But they ought to.
No player mentioned above will bring in the haul of prospects that the 2016 Rookie of the Year and 2017 All Star will. Fulmer’s under contract until 2023 so no team has to worry about him being a rental. And he’s only 23 years old so there’s no reason to expect any sort of sharp fall-off of his skills.
Make no mistake — the Tigers are not getting great prospects or many MLB-ready players if, and when, they trade any of their pieces previously-mentioned. Even the ones you think should bring in a lot of value won’t — teams know Detroit’s situation and aren’t going to offer much for the contracts of Verlander, Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, or Zimmermann. And everyone knows the team can’t afford J.D. Martinez so why bother giving up a ton to get the guy for the rest of the season?
The only player who would bring in the kind of significant help, as far as youth goes, would be Fulmer. He’d likely get the Tigers anywhere from three to four of a team’s top 10 prospects and he’d sure help in convincing that team to take on one of the big contracts of Cabrera or Zimmermann (just to name a couple) that would get the Tigers closer to being in a good financial spot as the rebuild begins.
In addition, it’s not only about what the Tigers could get for Fulmer — it’s about what Fulmer’s presence on the team over the next 5 years will look like and mean. Personally, I see him like I see Felix Hernandez in Seattle — a phenom on a bad team with no championships to prove how great he was.
Are the Tigers selfish enough (and I don’t mean “selfish” in a bad way, really) to keep Fulmer around during what promises to be some bad years of baseball coming up; put 800 innings on his arm; and hope by 2023 that they are (a) ready to contend and (b) he’s willing to sign a mega-deal for $25 million plus here in Detroit?
There are a lot of things that can happen before 2023 arrives.
Conversely, it’s not completely one-sided. The prospects the Tigers get in return for a potential deal for the righty may not pan out — and fans could, sickeningly, watch Fulmer thrive in his new city for the next decade. And by keeping Fulmer and rebuilding with him as the crown jewel, it may help attract certain free agents in the coming years once the franchise is, financially, prepared to start signing players of significance, again. Having a stud arm here could be attractive to players and help make Detroit a destination spot once again.
Whatever the team’s plans are for their young ace, you’d think they’d have to keep all options open. The Tigers are far from the team we remember not so long ago, that operated during times like these from a position of strength and power. They’re not that anymore. A rebuild can help get them back there, though.
The question is how committed are they to a full-on rebuild and is Fulmer more valuable to them as a Tiger for the next 5 years or as a trade chip until July 31?
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