Published Feb. 10, 2018

Some athletes have come through Detroit and spent such a long time in this town that we can honestly say that we “saw them grow up before our very eyes.”

In Michael Fulmer’s case, if you blinked those eyes, you missed his growing up.

It doesn’t seem like Fulmer was just a rookie. He was. And it doesn’t seem like he’s now the Tigers’ ace starting pitcher. Because he is.

Coveted around MLB

And now Fulmer is the darling of many of the other 29 MLB teams’ media outlets. Google Fulmer and his acquisition is being called for in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., among other cities. And these aren’t doormat teams. The Dodgers, Yankees and Nationals all have legitimate shots to win the World Series in 2018.

“The [insert team] should trade for Michael Fulmer,” various baseball writers—and fans—in other big league cities are writing and saying.

The rapid rise of Fulmer, the Oklahoma kid acquired from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade of 2015, has been dizzying. And it was accelerated by two things: the Tigers’ trade of Justin Verlander to Houston last summer and the fall from grace of fellow right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.

Just like that, the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year went from the Tigers’ ace of the future to the ace of the present. Toss in an elbow injury that has Fulmer’s spring training debut somewhat in question and this 24-year-old (he’ll be 25 on March 15) who was a first round draft choice of the Mets in 2011 has lived quite a baseball life already.

The idea that other baseball cities’ media and fans want Fulmer for the team they cover and support, before anyone has really seen him on a mound following his elbow surgery, is either foolhardy or a prime example of how much Fulmer’s stuff and potential dazzle.

Image result for michael fulmer

Elbow surgery nothing to take lightly, but don’t trade him

The concern over Fulmer’s long term health is real—or should be. His is a herky-jerky, almost violent delivery. He reminds me of the guy trying to win a huge stuffed animal for his girlfriend at the carnival by knocking over those milk bottles with one throw.

I can see the excitement in Detroit over Fulmer, for sure. The Tigers haven’t had a stud starter come to them from the minor leagues—even though it was the Mets who drafted him—since the aforementioned Verlander showed up at Comerica Park in 2005 out of Old Dominion.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention that the reason Fulmer is listed on other MLB teams’ wish lists is because there seems to be a notion that he could actually be available via trade.

Even presumed sane Tigers fans and media in this town have not only put forth the possibility that Fulmer could be trade bait, they have espoused it.

Hogwash!

Fulmer is under team control for several more seasons. He doesn’t make any money—in big league terms. And even in a rebuild situation, you have to have someone on your roster. And you certainly would like that someone to be a bulldog starter that you can build your rotation and, by extension, your pitching staff around.

The drawback to Fulmer as a so-called untouchable is that he’s not an everyday, position player. I will concede that it’s difficult to sell the fan base on the concept of your draw at the box office being a guy who only sets foot on the diamond once every five days, and perhaps only 15 or so times at home.

But why trade Fulmer? Do you want the Tigers, who are already going to be bad in 2018 and maybe in 2019, to win 45 games this season? They’ve already cleaned house of guys with fat contracts, which is Rebuild 101. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is to trade someone who doesn’t make any money for more prospects, which the Tigers have already stockpiled in the fire sales of last summer.

The concept of flipping Fulmer for prospects boils down to trading Michael Fulmer in the hopes of landing…the next Michael Fulmer.

Sorry but I’ll pass.

A leader before his time

The Tigers rotation in 2018 has a chance to either be passable or a hot mess. Without Fulmer, it doesn’t have a prayer.

After Fulmer and the vexing Zimmermann, you have lefties Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd—two guys on the fence that you hope like hell will fall over to your side. But it could very easily go the other way. Veteran right-hander Mike Fiers, a sort of Mike Pelfrey type, brings up the rear.

Take Fulmer out of that mix and it’s ghoulish.

But Fulmer may be taken out of that mix, anyway—at least temporarily—because no one truly knows how the recovery from his elbow surgery will go.

He says he feels great. OK. But we’ll see. A pitcher whose had surgery on anything—elbow, shoulder, neck, groin, what have you—turns from human being to ticking time bomb. Sometimes the bomb never goes off. One can only hope.

The other component to the breakneck Maturation of Michael Fulmer is that he’s already starting to sound like he’ll be a go-to guy for quotes when it comes to taking the temperature of the Tigers.

“We’ve got no pressure, no stress,” he said last month. “We’re not here to shock the world or listen to what anybody else has to say. We’re just going to keep our nose to the grindstone and go out and compete and try to win games. We’re going to go out and have some fun.”

As much as I enjoyed hearing Verlander’s takes over the years, I doubt JV would be so gosh-golly-gee whiz if he was still on the Tigers roster now.

Less than three years ago, Michael Fulmer was a hot prospect in the Mets farm system whose path to the big leagues seemed blocked by the big club’s embarrassment of riches in the starting rotation. It’s not that way anymore in Queens.

Fulmer, meanwhile, has risen from unknown to former Rookie of the Year to ace to injured ace to coveted prize around baseball. And soon, it seems, to young leader in a clubhouse crying for them.

Yeah, we’ve seen Fulmer grow up before our very eyes. As long as we didn’t blink.

 

 

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