As the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches, the Detroit Tigers are prepared to deal several members of their bullpen.
The list of trade candidates starts with Michael Fulmer. The 29-year-old won’t deliver the best return of the group, since he comes with the label of a two-month rental, but his impending free agency means he is basically guaranteed to be traded to a postseason contender within the next week.
“Whatever they have on the business side of things, I’ve got no hard feelings whatsoever,” Fulmer said. “I know this game is a business, and whatever this front office and organization sees fit as being the best move forward, I’m on board.”
The Tigers are engaged in conversations with teams across the league on a few players, but nothing substantial has developed yet. Every player on the roster — except rookie Riley Greene — is on the trade block, as the organization aims to immediately improve the big-league team, specifically the offense, in search of better results in the 2023 season.
“Everybody’s aware of the deadline coming,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “The reason we have these conversations is because we haven’t won enough. It sure would be nice to be receiving guys as opposed to a team that’s going to lose a couple players. The reality of the business at this time of the year, especially when the record indicates what it is, you got to be ready for anything as a team and as an individual.”
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Fulmer knows his long, respected career in Detroit is coming to an end. He sat in front of his locker Tuesday afternoon, hours before what appeared to be his final two outings at Comerica Park as a Tiger. Fulmer, who pitched a scoreless inning in both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s loss, wasn’t overwhelmed with emotions — not like Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras who may have recently played his last game at Wrigley Field — but he isn’t looking forward to telling his son, Miles, a diehard Tigers fan and common clubhouse visitor, about a trade whenever it happens.
“It’s tougher when you got kids now,” Fulmer said. “I don’t know how he’ll take it. Can one of you guys break it to him?”
Fulmer, an All-Star in 2017, took a forthright approach to the situation. He isn’t blind to what’s going on, and while he is appreciative of the place he has called home over the past six seasons, leaving the Tigers will present a new opportunity.
In 2016, the Tigers battled for a playoff spot down the stretch. Back then — before right knee surgery, Tommy John surgery and a transition to the bullpen — Fulmer was a starting pitcher. The industry had him pegged as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. He won American League Rookie of the Year that season and was lined up to start a do-or-die Game 162 against Cleveland.
“I think I was too star-struck or in awe that I was in the big leagues,” Fulmer said. “I didn’t know what was going on and how close we actually were to the playoffs. … I just didn’t know any better. Now you start looking around and playing a little longer, you see these teams that are making the playoffs every year, and you realize how fun it is.
“That’s what I tell these guys now. Treat this game like there’s no next year. Don’t say we’re going to win next year, or our window to win is two years from now. It’s win now, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
A one-game showdown to determine the final AL team in the postseason never happened. The makeup game against Cleveland didn’t need to be played, as the Tigers lost, 1-0, to the Atlanta Braves in Game 161 and were eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
The next year, the Tigers began a prolonged rebuild. Fulmer was so close, only for the franchise to then slash payroll and gut the roster.
He hoped 2022 would be different.
And yet the Tigers are 20 games under .500 entering Wednesday’s series finale against the San Diego Padres, the final game at Comerica Park before a seven-game road trip to Toronto and Minneapolis that takes the team through the trade deadline.
“Usually the buyers are winning teams,” Fulmer said. “I haven’t pitched in the playoffs before.”
Fulmer, after persevering through injuries and years of losing, is hungry to pitch in the postseason, even though that requires him to move on from the organization that acquired him from the New York Mets (in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes) at the 2015 trade deadline.
In 2022, Fulmer has a 2.92 ERA with 19 walks and 36 strikeouts across 37 innings in 38 appearances.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Fulmer said. “I love this city. I love this clubhouse. I love this organization. The guys in here have meant a lot to me. But we still have a week left, and I’m still wanting to go up there and put up zeros.”
Other relievers are being shopped, too.
Next to Fulmer on the list of trade candidates is fellow right-hander Joe Jiménez, an undrafted free agent signed by the Tigers in June 2013 out of Puerto Rico. Left-handers Andrew Chafin and Gregory Soto could be traded, as well, with Soto possessing the most value of the bunch because he doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2025 season.
Jiménez is under team control through 2023. He was adamant he doesn’t want to depart from the Tigers, but his trade value may never be higher.
“That’s something I can’t control,” Jiménez said. “That’s not on me.”
Jiménez, an All-Star in 2018, has strong emotions for his development within the organization, which began nine years ago.
The 27-year-old failed to earn a spot on the 2021 Opening Day roster and finished last season with a 5.96 ERA in 52 outings. Five years were spent riding MLB’s proverbial minor league roller coaster, but Jiménez harnessed his command this year and became one of the team’s most trusted high-leverage relievers.
“This is all I know,” Jiménez said. “Detroit, for me, has been basically my father. I’ve been here since I was young. It’s going to be tough for me if something happens, but at the same time, I just play baseball, it doesn’t matter where. But for me, personally, I would like to stay here.”
Jiménez has a 3.13 ERA with eight walks and 49 strikeouts over 37⅓ inning in 40 games. He last pitched Wednesday, allowing a run on two hits and striking out three in the seventh inning against the Padres.
Underlying metrics always portrayed Jiménez as a top-tier reliever, but the in-game results didn’t match up until he began pitching inside. Finally, Jiménez appears to have everything figured out.
The breakthrough results, paired with the high-velocity fastball and wipeout slider, make him attractive to playoff contenders. And the postseason is attractive to Jiménez, but if it were up to him, he would prefer to get there with the Tigers.
“Absolutely,” Jiménez said. “It’s something different because I’ve never been there. I haven’t had that experience, but 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 it’s going to be for good.”