Padres may explore trade for Tigers’ Michael Fulmer

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Credit: AP Photo

Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers makes sense as the San Diego Padres start their search for pitching this winter. 

The hiring of a new manager for the San Diego Padres is a top priority for A.J. Preller.

After two swing-and-miss hires in Andy Green and Jayce Tingler, there is a lot of pressure on Preller to bring in someone who can deliver results in the standings. The new manager is expected to win as the current Padres roster is filled with relevant talent. However, just being constructed to win games doesn’t guarantee that fact. A productive leader is necessary, and the Padres are seeking that currently.

Not too far behind hiring a manager in Preller’s lengthy to-do list is finding a closer for the upcoming season. The Padres will likely not retain Mark Melancon on his $5 million mutual option for the 2022 season. The closer will surely get more on the open market and will probably demand a multiple-year deal. That leaves the Padres with a decision to make. Most believe the team will move on from the 37-year-old right-handed pitcher.

If the Padres want a reliable closer for next season, they may need to get creative. Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan are not thrilling options to close out a game, though Pomeranz has been pretty unhittable since transitioning to a reliever. Turning Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack into a closer is another option, but there are obvious concerns that either man can be viable in the role.

Expect Preller and his staff to explore trade options.

One very likely scenario is the Padres obtaining Detroit Tigers’ right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer. Preller and the Padres have shown interest in the pitcher in the past, but nothing was ever consummated by the two sides. Fulmer is in the last year of his contract and surprisingly threw well as the closer for the Tigers late in the 2021 season. It was the first time in his major league career that Fulmer pitched out of the pen.

Michael Fulmer won the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year award after going 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.119 WHIP in 159 innings pitched. The following year Fulmer was named an AL All-Star, but then injuries derailed a once-promising career. Tommy John surgery forced the pitcher to miss the entire 2019 season. He returned in the COVID year of 2020 but was a shadow of himself, recording an 8.78 ERA in 10 starts.

In 2021, Fulmer saved 14 games, recording a 1.9 WAR and amassing a 2.97 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP in 69.2 innings pitched. Most thought Fulmer would balk at the idea of pitching in relief, but he took on the challenge and enjoyed it. Fulmer said that now that he’s thrown in high-leverage situations, it’s hard for him to imagine returning to being a starter. Closers are a different breed in themselves, and Fulmer seems to have enjoyed the role.

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So, what would the Detroit Tigers need for Fulmer?

The right-handed pitcher made $3.1 million last year and will make slightly more in 2022. San Diego can absorb that type of contract without batting an eye. There is a lot of upside with Fulmer, and though he is an injury risk, he could easily have a career year on his contract season. The pitcher is fully healthy and may also be serviceable to the Padres in the rotation if they choose that route.

The price tag will likely be multiple prospects. Players close to major league service time or have already debuted within the last 12-18 months might be the preference for Detroit. The Tigers will want to get a decent value for their former Rookie-of-the-Year. The Padres can easily pay the asking price as long as the Tigers’ asking price is reasonable.

A deal really makes sense for both sides, but the Tigers will surely find multiple suitors for their right-handed pitcher. Preller will need to step up in order to make Michael Fulmer a Padre. There is no time like the present.

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