This is all purely speculative, but the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros would make ideal trade partners if starting pitcher Michael Fulmer is dealt.
The Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros made headlines last August, agreeing to a trade that sent Tigers face of the franchise Justin Verlander, along with minor leaguer Juan Ramirez, to the American League West franchise in a deal for three prospects.
It was a mutually-beneficial deal for all parties.
Verlander allowed just four earned runs in his 34 regular-season innings for the Astros—all four came on solo home runs—before pitching to a 2.21 ERA in 36.2 postseason innings.
He also held opposing batters to a .534 OPS and a .177 batting average against in the playoffs, helping Houston to a World Series crown.
On the flipside, Detroit acquired three key prospects to help hasten the franchise’s rebuild.
Just 20 years old, starting pitcher Franklin Perez looks likely to factor into the rotation sooner rather than later after registering a 3.09 ERA, a 3.69 FIP and 25 strikeouts in 32 innings to end the year at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Moving forward, all three should be in the Majors within the next few seasons.
While it was a prominent haul for Verlander, the trade left the World Champion Astros with plenty of minor league system with plenty of talent to potentially flip for more talent as they search for another title.
First baseman and outfielder Yordan Alvarez is another potential impact-player who could emerge from the minors in the future.
Dealing from the aforementioned group wouldn’t hurt Houston’s short-term prospects, while also setting the team up for another deep October run if they can snag additional elite talent.
Keeping up with the Joneses
Still, Houston has certainly seen their competition up the ante so far in the Hot Stove League.
The New York Yankees, who came within a game of beating Houston in the most recent iteration of the American League Championship Series, just added Giancarlo Stanton and will benefit from a full season of Sonny Gray in 2018.
Meanwhile, there’s significant competition in the American League West for the Astros, a division Houston won by 21 games last season.
However, the trio, along with recently re-signed August trade acquisition Justin Upton, should make things significantly closer out West.
What’s more, with a free agent market that still includes J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas an American league team looking to make an impact of their own could shake things up in a hurry.
Pitching, pitching and more pitching
Speaking of potential additions, the Astros have recently been linked with one in the form of Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole.
Sources: The Houston Astros have engaged with the Pittsburgh Pirates on trade talks for starter Gerrit Cole. One name bandied about as a return: outfielder Derek Fisher. For a trade to happen, Pirates almost certainly would need Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley as a centerpiece.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 8, 2018
The Astros going after another frontline starter, as owner Jim Crane suggested they are today, makes sense with Dallas Keuchel hitting free agency after the 2018 season. Could be Gerrit Cole via trade. Could be Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta in free agency. Options are plentiful.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 8, 2018
Additionally, MLB.com’s Alyson Footer tweeted the following with a video of Houston owner Jim Crane answering questions.
Astros owner Jim Crane said team could dip into farm system to acquire a front-line starter if a deal makes sense: pic.twitter.com/OiKpYwQZtV
— Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) January 8, 2018
While the Astros have yet to be linked with Fulmer, the fit is definitely there in terms of a long-term fit in Houston’s rotation.
Per Spotrac, The 24-year-old has five years of controllability left before he reaches free agency. What’s more, those five years include one year of pre-arbitration control.
This is all purely speculative, but the fit is not only there for the Astros, but also for the Tigers.
Outside of the Yankees and perhaps Atlanta, Houston is the best positioned team in terms of young talent and prospects that can make a substantial offer for Fulmer.
The same prospects Passan mentioned in his tweets, Fisher, Tucker and Whitley, would certainly make sense for the Tigers.
That’s also purely speculative, but a player like Tucker or Whitely would represent the elite prospect Detroit would be an excellent starting point for executive vice president of baseball operations Al Avila and company.
At this point, Detroit should only trade Fulmer if a team is willing to pay top dollar, or more.
Building a package around Tucker would certainly make sense.
Position Player Prospects Needed
While the Tigers dealing Michael Fulmer would certainly be a blow to the long-term outlook in the rotation, starting pitching is the one area where the orginization deep in quality prospects.
While the starting pitching looks promising, as does the future bullpen picture, there isn’t as much depth in terms of position players.
All could become anywhere from quality to impact players in the Majors, but as it stands, the Tigers don’t have a position player prospect to spearhead the rebuild like the White Sox have with Yoan Moncada or the Cubs had with Anthony Rizzo.
Adding Tucker could accomplish that.
Close to the Majors
It also wouldn’t hurt that the outfielder is already at Double-A after turning in a 129 wRC+, a .368 wOBA, a .247 ISO and an .837 OPS in 317 plate appearances against competition that was on average four years older than him.
Outside of Stewart, Gerber and Lugo, Detroit’s best position player are scattered across the lower minors.
Of the three, only Gerber has graduated to Triple-A, and he logged just 18 plate appearances with Triple-A Toledo at the tail-end of last season.
Outside of Tucker in this hypothetical swap, the Tigers should also target first baseman and outfielder Yordan Alvarez.
Alvarez just finished the 2017 season at Advanced-A Buies Creek, but he’d give the Tigers a definite long-term successor for Miguel Cabrera at first base.
Throw in a starting prospect like Hector Perez, or perhaps a player like Bukauskas, and you’ve got the making of a win-win trade.
If anything, if a Cole/Astros trade does occur, it would set some sort of bar for Fulmer in terms of a trade return, considering both are frontline-type starters.
In fact, you could probably make the case that Fulmer has more value.
He’s not as established as the Pirates’ ace, but he’s younger, comes with more years of team control and has been more valuable since the 2016 season (when Fulmer entered the league).
Gerrit Cole vs Michael Fulmer
Years of team control remaining, per Spotrac: Two
Career fWAR: 15.9
Lifetime Swinging Strike Percentage: 9.5
Lifetime WHIP: 1.22
Innings pitched since 2016: 319
fWAR since 2016: 5.6
Years of team control remaining, per Spotrac: Five
Career fWAR: 6.6
Lifetime Swinging Strike Percentage: 9.9
Lifetime WHIP: 1.14
Innings pitched since 2016: 323.2
fWAR since 2016: 6.6
If the Pirates end up dealing Cole for a premium return, it would set up the Tigers to potentially receive much more in swap should the team move their resident ace.