Detroit — Joe Jimenez signed with the Tigers out of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy in 2013. He was 18 years old. He made his big-league debut in 2017. Michael Fulmer came to the Tigers in a trade with the Mets in 2015. He was 22 and playing in Double-A. He debuted with the Tigers one year later.
Hard as it might be to fathom, Sunday could well be the last time both long-standing Tigers wear the home whites at Comerica Park.
“That might be a little tough,” Fulmer said.
The Tigers will leave Wednesday night for a seven-game swing through Toronto and Minneapolis. The Aug. 2 trade deadline will have come and gone by the time they return. Both have generated interest from contending teams seeking veteran bullpen help — Fulmer being on an expiring contract and Jimenez with one year of arbitration left.
Teams are also sniffing around Andrew Chafin (who signed through 2023) and Alex Lange.
“Everybody is aware of the deadline coming and the reason we are having these conversations is we haven’t won enough,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It sure would be nice to be on the receiving end of a guy as opposed to the potential of losing a couple of players.
“But the reality of business at this time of year, especially when the record is what it is, you have to be ready for anything as a team and as an individual.”
The Tigers over the last couple of days have stocked up on veteran pitchers — signing former Tigers Daniel Norris and Jacob Barnes, plus former Twins and Brewers right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez to minor league deals. Ready reinforcements ahead of the trade deadline as well as a trip to Toronto where it is expected that at least one or two players might not be able to cross the border for COVID-19 reasons.
“The guys who are on expiring contracts are all paying attention to everything that’s written right now,” Hinch said. “That’s only natural.”
More: Henning: Al Avila can deal when he has chips — and Tigers have a big one in Tarik Skubal
Both Fulmer and Jimenez sat in front of their lockers before the game Tuesday trying to explain the complex emotions that come with the looming possibility of being traded away from the team you’ve called home most or all of your professional life.
“Whatever the case may be, I’m not really super focused on it,” Fulmer said. “I’m still trying to help this team win. Whatever happens in the next week happens.”
Neither is rooting for a change of scenery, but both have been around long enough and seen enough teammates move at the deadline to understand the drill.
“This is something you can’t control, you know?” Jimenez said. “That’s not on me. But I would love to stay here. Whether I get traded or not, here is where home is. I grew up here. I became a big-league pitcher here. To be honest, if they trade me they trade me, but I’d like to stay here and win with these guys.”
The roots are deep here, for both players.
“This is all I know,” Jimenez said. “Detroit for me has been basically my father because I’ve been here since I was young. It’s going to be tough for me the first few days if something does happen. But at the same time, I just play baseball. It doesn’t matter where.”
Think of all Fulmer has been through with this organization. The Rookie of the Year honors, the playoff run in 2016, the surgeries, the rehabs, the arbitration battles, the comeback, the re-emergence as a leverage reliever — he’s written a lot of significant chapters of his life here.
“There is so much to be grateful for,” Fulmer said. “For this organization, for these teammates, the guys in this clubhouse, you guys (media). The Tigers gave me the opportunity to start my career out of Double-A. I was 22. I’m very appreciative and grateful for everything everybody has done in this organization for me.
“It’s been a long road, a bumpy road. Hopefully we can work things out, whatever they have on the business side. I know this game is a business. Whatever the front office sees fit to move this team forward, I’m aboard.”
The positive side of being traded is the opportunity to get back into the playoff race.
“That’s something different,” Jimenez said. “I never been there. People say it’s different baseball, just like the World Baseball Classic, something like that. It’s going to be hard for me to leave, but at the same time, I know (pitching in a playoff race) will be good.”
The closest Fulmer got was 2016 when the Tigers ended a couple games short of a wild-card spot.
“I was too star-struck and in awe that I was in the big leagues at that time, I didn’t really know the effect of what was going on or how close we were,” Fulmer said. “From 2017 until now, we haven’t come close. That’s the one exciting thing about it. That’d be the only bright side to this.”
The biggest worry is how he would break the news of a trade to his son, Miles, who is 6 now.
“Can you guys break it to him if it happens?” he said. “That might not go well.”
Norris is back
It’s been a strange couple of years for Norris, 29, who pitched for the Tigers from 2015 to 2021. He was traded to the Brewers at the deadline last year for prospect Reese Olson but was left off their playoff roster.
He made the Cubs as a non-roster invitee this spring and was recently released with a 6.90 ERA in 27 games.
And yet, he was holding hitters to a .207 batting average with a 32% strikeout rate — 43 strikeouts in 30 innings. He held hitters to a .143 average with a 42.5% whiff rate with his slider and a .121 average and 43.8% whiff rate with his changeup.
Norris was working out of the Cubs bullpen, but the initial plan is to transition him to a starting role at Triple-A Toledo. The hope is the Tigers can plug him into the rotation in August and September when some of the younger pitchers have their innings rationed.
Gonzalez, 30, is also a starting pitcher. Barnes pitched in 22 games out of the Tigers bullpen earlier this season before being designated for assignment. He signed a minor-league deal with Seattle but appeared in just four games at Triple-A Tacoma.
Reliever Wily Peralta (hamstring) is expected to begin a rehab assignment at Toledo on Wednesday. The plan is for him to make at least three outings and pitch every other day. Barring setbacks, he could be ready to join the team in Minneapolis next week.
Padres at Tigers
First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit
RHP Yu Darvish (9-4, 3.28), Padres: He scrapped his changeup this season, so he is “down” to six pitches in his arsenal. He’s had great success using his cutter to set up his four-seam fastball (.161 opponent average). Opponents are hitting .143 against his sinker and splitter, too. In his last three starts, covering 21 innings, he’s allowed five runs, with 24 strikeouts and five walks and an opponent slash line of .162/.222/.284.
LHP Tarik Skubal (7-8, 3.88), Tigers: Making his 20th start of the season, he’s coming off a beauty in Oakland. He allowed an unearned run and two hits with nine strikeouts over six innings. His four-seamer-slider combination was clicking. In total, he got 17 misses on 48 swings and 15 called strikes, 11 whiffs and 10 called strikes with the fastball and slider.