The Philadelphia Phillies rotation – propelled by breakout seasons from Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin, along with continued All-Star caliber production from Aaron Nola – has been one of the more pleasant surprises around the league in 2018. But that apparently hasn’t stopped the Phillies from pursuing upgrades.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, general manager Matt Klentak has inquired on the availability of Detroit Tigers RHP Michael Fulmer:
Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer is under control for four-plus seasons, making him a target not just for contenders such as the Yankees, but also rebuilding clubs that envision him as a future building block.
The San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams that have checked in on Fulmer, along with the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, according to sources and published reports.
This is the first time that the Phillies have been connected to the 25-year-old righty beyond a speculative sense, though there’s long been a belief that he could be a good fit for the Phillies.
Last offseason, Matt Gelb and Matt Breen, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, reported that the Phillies had checked in on Toronto Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman, Kansas City Royals LHP Danny Duffy and Tampa Bay Rays RHP Chris Archer. The duo added that the Phillies had “inquired on just about every young starter that could be traded,” so while they didn’t specifically mention Fulmer, it stands to reason that the Phillies may have reached out on Fulmer this past offseason as well.
In any event, Fulmer, an All-Star a year ago, is in the midst of a disappointing 2018 campaign. In 16 starts, which have spanned 94.1 innings, Fulmer has a 4.20 ERA and 4.03 FIP. That marks a regression from the 3.83 ERA and 3.67 FIP he posted in 2017. In 2016, when he won the American League Rookie of the Year, Fulmer went 11-7 in 26 starts with a 3.06 ERA and 3.76 FIP, while also tallying a 3.0 fWAR.
As Rosenthal said, Fulmer can’t become a free-agent until after 2022, his age-29 season. He won’t even become eligible for arbitration until next season. So, in theory, general manager Al Avila and the Tigers probably aren’t overly motivated to move Fulmer now, especially given that he’s in the midst of a down season. Fulmer is young enough that he could potentially be part of the next great Tigers team. With that said, the Tigers are nine-and-a-half games back of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central, the sport’s worst division. The Tigers probably could be swayed into thinking that the right trade return for Fulmer would actually expedite their rebuilding process. The guess here is that “the right price” would probably be extremely high.
One thing that could be a point of concern for potential suitors is that Fulmer did have a stint on the disabled list in August of 2017 with right elbow neuritis. The injury didn’t require surgery, as Fulmer returned in less than two weeks. Per FanGraphs, Fulmer’s velocity has actually seen a small uptick in 2018, so there doesn’t seem to be any lingering effects of the injury. But for any team to get in advanced talks with the Tigers about Fulmer, they would have to feel good about his medical information, both in the present and for the future.
Among the league’s many “controllable starters” – some of whom were referenced in this article – Fulmer is one of the most intriguing names, largely because of how long he’s under team control. But with that will likely come an increased price. So while this isn’t a story to dismiss, it’s more likely to just be due-diligence than a trade inquiry that leads to more serious talks over the coming weeks.