Michael Fulmer can see the calendar flipping to July, just like he can see the standings with the Tigers double-digit games back in the AL Central race. He knows what usually follows.
He has seen this play out for most of his Major League career. Aside from his Rookie of the Year campaign, when the Tigers overcame a poor start to vault into the American League Wild Card race until the season’s final weekend, Detroit has been a seller at the Trade Deadline for the bulk of Fulmer’s Tigers tenure. This time, with Fulmer set to become a free agent at season’s end, he’s the one on the trading block.
“I’m pitching for the Tigers until I’m not,” he said. “It’s kind of one of those things, whether it’s the Trade Deadline or the end of the year or for future seasons. I just try to go out there and continue to put up zeros and focus on now. That’s all you can do. Don’t worry about what the future holds. Do what you need to do right now, and right now we’re trying to win ballgames.”
Fulmer has spent the bulk of his career around the trade market. He became a member of the Tigers as one of the final moves of Dave Dombrowski’s tenure as general manager, a top Mets prospect acquired for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the final minutes before the 2015 Trade Deadline.
A year later, Fulmer became AL Rookie of the Year, and the Tigers made a late charge for a Wild Card spot before falling just short. The following year, the Tigers began their rebuild, and general manager Al Avila courted the idea of trading Fulmer — a young pitcher on the rise with years of club control — for top prospects.
No such package came together, and the Tigers held onto Fulmer in hopes that he could be a veteran leader as the team emerged from the rebuild. He’s a veteran leader out of the bullpen, having come back from knee and elbow surgeries, but the Tigers’ season hasn’t gone as hoped.
“I mean, Detroit’s given me everything,” Fulmer said, “given me a chance when they traded for me back in 2015, to 2016 seasons where we were one game out of the playoff race, and then obviously all these quote-unquote rebuilding years. We’ve seen a lot of young guys come up and a lot of different guys come through, a lot of good guys you call teammates, and this team is definitely on the upslope swing of things and the future’s bright here.
“Like I said, I’m pitching here until I’m not, whenever that day is. Not really worried about it, not really focused on it, just trying to go out and put up the best numbers I can and trying to get wins for this team. It’s not over. We’re still a great team. I think we’re finally starting to play better as a team collectively, holding leads when we need to in the bullpen and the offense is heating up.”
Even so, the situation suggests a trade is the logical move. The Tigers have built a deep enough corps of relievers that they can fill from within, as they have with Alex Lange and Jason Foley this year following Kyle Funkhouser’s shoulder injury. More relief prospects are on the way, including Angel De Jesus at Triple-A Toledo and Wilmer Flores at Double-A Erie, if Flores doesn’t stick as a starter.
Fulmer is trying not to think about it, but he has talked with others who have gone through it. That includes Daniel Norris, who was traded to Milwaukee at last year’s Deadline.
“He said it was kind of a rough ride, being with the team for six years like he was and being traded,” Fulmer said. “But ultimately he got a chance to pitch for a playoff contention team, and he said that was a big deal for him. And obviously I think everybody’s goal is to pitch in the postseason eventually. But he said it was definitely weird getting to know a new group of guys in the middle of the season.”
Fulmer’s market will be interesting to follow. It was tepid early in the season as he struggled through issues with his slider and questions about his velocity, but his resurgence — his hold in Wednesday’s win over the Giants extended his streak to 13 innings without an earned run over his last 13 appearances — should draw interest in what is always a robust bullpen market.
“I had some stuff to work on, and we’re finally getting the numbers and the spin direction, all the stuff I wanted back on my slider,” he said. “Everything’s feeling good. Ball’s coming out well, and I’m happy to be healthy.”