Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers turned down 2 chances to add centerpiece of rebuild

The Detroit Tigers have struggled to reset and rebuild, but two opportunities to accelerate that effort were apparently turned down.

At 32-75 entering Monday, the Detroit Tigers are headed for 100 losses after losing 98 games in both 2017 and 2018. They were a trade deadline seller again this year, parting with Nick Castellanos and Shane Greene in deals last Wednesday.

With the years of team control he has remaining in mind, the Tigers had a high asking price on starting pitcher Matthew Boyd and wound up keeping him. A nice return on Boyd would have accelerated the rebuild, at what may be looked back on as the peak in his value. But as it turns out, the Tigers previously turned down two possible franchise-shifting trade offers.

In 2017, starting pitcher Michael Fulmer was coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016 and he was Detroit’s All-Star representative that year. He carried some injury concerns, but the Tigers seemed to have a future ace in their midst.

Since then, things have gone off the rails. After the 2017 July 31 trade deadline, Fulmer only made four August starts before ulnar neuritis in his right elbow and a subsequent surgery ended his season.

A knee injury ended Fulmer’s 2018 campaign early, and he hadn’t pitched particularly well anyway (4.65 ERA over 24 starts). Then he had Tommy John surgery in March, and won’t be back on the mound until sometime next season.

The Tigers reportedly fielded aggressive offers for Fulmer around the aforementioned 2017 non-waiver trade deadline. According to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, citing multiple people with knowledge of the talks, the Chicago Cubs offered infielder Javier Baez as part of a three-player package for Fulmer and the Houston Astros offered third baseman Alex Bregman for Fulmer and reliever Justin Wilson.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and Tigers general manager Al Avila would have surely been widely criticized for trading Fulmer if he had done so two years ago. But Fulmer’s elbow issue two years ago was a red flag to an eventual need for Tommy John surgery. Assuming he was fine in July of 2017, a trade at a peak in his value and with the idea a major injury could be around the corner for any pitcher made moving Fulmer palatable in order to add one of two young players who had yet to break out.

Baez finished second in NL MVP voting last year, while Bregman finished fifth in AL MVP voting.

The desire to keep players who have team contractual control, and the valuing of prospects as a tentacle of that, makes it hard for rebuilding teams to get a haul of young players for their veteran assets in trades. The Tigers had some bad timing in that regard as they entered a reset phase, which they couldn’t help. But time will tell if they repeat their mistake on Fulmer with Boyd, and generally continue to mistime or overestimate the market value of their tradable assets.

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