Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros would once again make ideal trade partners regarding Michael Fulmer

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.

Meanwhile, outfielder Daz Cameron and catcher Jake Rogers, who finished the year at Single-A and Advanced-A respectively, both look like players capable of making an impact on both sides of the ball.

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.

There’s high-ceiling outfielders in Kyle Tucker as well as Derek Fisher, not to mention potential frontline arms in Forrest Whitley and J.B. Bukauskas.

First baseman and outfielder Yordan Alvarez is another potential impact-player who could emerge from the minors in the future.

Add in the likes of corner infielder Colin Moran, right-handers Francis Martes and David Paulino as well as left-hander Cionel Perez and there isn’t a shortage of trade chips.

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

As it stands, the Astros are still one of baseball’s elite teams despite only adding relievers Joe Smith, Hector Rondon and Anthony Gose in the offseason.

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.

Anaheim’s offseason moves—signing Shohei Ohtani and Zack Cozart and trading for Ian Kinsler—may not be enough to bridge the gap to the ‘Stros.

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.

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan tweeted the following in a pair of tweets on Monday morning.

Additionally, MLB.com’s Alyson Footer tweeted the following with a video of Houston owner Jim Crane answering questions.

Michael Fulmer

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.

With Perez, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows all at varying stages of the development process, Detroit has four starters with the potential to pitch near the top of a Major League rotation.

There’s also plenty of other starters with potential in Grayson Long, Kyle Funkhouser, Gregory Soto, Sandy Baez and Tyler Alexander.

While the starting pitching looks promising, as does the future bullpen picture, there isn’t as much depth in terms of position players.

There is plenty of upside with Cameron, Rogers, all-around middle infielder Isaac Paredes, promising outfield slugger Christin Stewart, outfielder Mike Gerber and infielder Dawel Lugo.

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.

Market/Value

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

Gerrit Cole

Age: 27
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

Michael Fulmer

Age: 24
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.

Next Column:

The Angels could have conceivably headed for a rebuild. Now with Shohei Ohtaniand reportedly Kevin Maitanthe future is bright in Anaheim.

Can the Pittsburgh Pirates Keep It Up?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 11 games over .500. When was the last time you were able to say that?

Not only are they a game ahead of the Reds for first in the NL Central, but they had more All-Star representatives than perennial contenders Boston and Milwaukee.

The Pirates’ pitching has been their strength. They have given up the second fewest runs in the entire National League and hold hitters to the third lowest batting average in the same league. So we know their pitching staff has been fantastic. AJ Burnett and Erik Bedard have meshed in well with a good group of starters as well as an excellent bullpen.

Like I said, we know their pitching is good and is going to be there, but what about the offense?

I mean, no offense, but… Sorry, had to throw that in there.

The point is that the Pirates need more help at the plate. Pittsburgh isn’t getting a ton of help coming back from injury. Alex Presley is the only notable position player on the DL. So help is probably going to have to come from outside the organization.

That being said, the current offense isn’t too bad, that’s saying if you add a piece or two. The Bucos probably need corner outfield help as well as help at first base. The team, though, isn’t short of good bats. Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas and Garret Jones aren’t bad hitters. It’s just that they don’t belong in the middle of the order. Put those guys in the top two spots, or perhaps the six through eight spots, in the order and you’ll be fine. It’s finding bats for the middle of the order to pair with Andrew McCutchen that’s the dilemma.

Justin Upton. Just going to throw that out there.  Go ahead, be taken aback by it. It’s surprising to me too that the Diamondbacks, on the heels of a playoff season, would consider moving the 24 year-old slugger. Yep, they really would consider moving a player that has nearly 100 career home runs, steals, driven in north of 300 runs and has won Silver Slugger and a Fielding Bible honors by the age of 24. Crazy, I know. But supposedly, the Snakes want to contend next year and are willing to move Upton for Major-League-ready prospects. The Pirates could dangle prized pitching prospects Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon or even perhaps AAA outfielder Sterling Marte, who has shown good potential.

Now, all three aren’t going to Pittsburgh in any deal unless maybe Arizona sells the rights to its entire farm system in the move, but one of the pitchers and some lower tear prospects as well as a controllable player like the recently demoted Jose Tabata could interest Arizona. I know it’s a lot, but Arizona might jump at a proposed deal of say Cole, Tabata and a lower-level prospect for Upton and maybe one of Arizona’s many starting pitchers.

But I don’t think Justin Upton solves it all for the Pirates. They need another bat. A PTBNL type bat to pair with Upton and McCutchen. By “PTBNL” type bat, I mean someone like a Delmon Young or a Ryan Ludwick. Somebody on a shorter contract who, if they play to their potential, can give you 20 homeruns and 80 runs batted in over the course of an entire season.

The Pirates need someone like that if they get Upton to add length to their lineup. As stated, the bats that the Pirates already have, like Neil Walker and Garret Jones, are better suited hitting towards the bottom of the order, not carrying the lineup in the thick of things.

So drink it all in baseball fans, the Pirates are winning, but they might need some offensive help to keep it up.