When it comes to profiling sellers on the trade market, it helps for the rebuilding team in question to have a star nearing free agency. That kind of scenario typically makes the process of finding a trade easier; the bad team has something that all the good teams want, and with the star possibly on his way out the door, the club has some incentive to get something in return while they can.
But when a selling team lacks a stud at the top of their roster to shop, well, it can be harder to find a meaningful deal. Selling teams find themselves in the position they’re in because most of their players are bad. That’s the situation in which we find this year’s Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers have had a disappointing 2022, and will likely look to jettison some veteran talent at the deadline. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have any high-level starters to pawn off to competing teams in exchange for a top prospect or two. For the most part, they just have a bad roster full of underperforming players. They do possess a few vets who could help contending teams on the margin, though there’s little in the way of impact talent.
If the Yankees were to make something happen with Detroit, it might involve bullpen arms coming back to the Bronx, with Michael Fulmer the most interesting name in that department. Once best known around these parts as the starting pitcher who
robbed beat Gary Sánchez in the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year race, Fulmer has remade himself as a quality reliever several years into his career.
We don’t have a huge sample to evaluate the righty with here, but since shifting to the bullpen last season, Fulmer has rolled up 87 innings of 2.37-ERA pitching. He’s held opponents to a .279 wOBA, and his expected stats via Statcast suggest he’s been even better, as he ranks in the 96th percentile or better in xERA, xBA, and xSLG in 2022.
Somewhat surprisingly, Fulmer hasn’t surged in relief thanks to a velo bump, with his fastball velocity actually a bit down from 2021. Instead, he’s become a slider monster, using his “secondary” offering over 60-percent of the time. Fulmer uses the pitch almost like a cutter, and opposing batters have had a very difficult time making solid contact on it:
Fulmer will be a free agent after this season, so he fits as a nice rental that wouldn’t cost too much in terms of prospects. The Yankees obviously have a deep bullpen, but if an opening were to spring up, Fulmer is likely the first man I’d target on Detroit’s roster.
From the other side, lefty reliever Andrew Chafin also looks likely to be shopped around the deadline. Chafin has been one of the league’s best southpaw bullpen arms over the last two seasons, running a 2.05 ERA and 2.77 FIP in 92.1 innings over that span. Chafin only throws about 90 mph, and appears to rely on deceptiveness to fool hitters. He uses his three pitches (a sinker, four-seamer, and slider) almost equally, and seems to hide the ball very well in his delivery:
Much like Fulmer, Chafin probably wouldn’t cost all that much, as the veteran has a $6.5 million player option for 2023 that he’s questionable to exercise. While Chafin does bring something to the table, it’d be rather surprising to see the Yankees make the move, as Chafin does seem to have a some overlap in skillset with current Yankee lefty Lucas Luetge.
In theory, the Tigers also have a few bats to offer up. Outfielder Robbie Grossman was something of an underrated switch-hitter for some time, running a 108 OPS+ between 2016 and 2021, including a 114 mark last season. The bottom has fallen out for Grossman this year, however, with the 32-year-old slashing .210/.316/.281. Grossman’s on-base ability is evident, but the Yankees probably won’t look to replace Joey Gallo in the lineup by importing someone who has replicated Gallo’s production in 2022.
Detroit will probably listen to calls on veterans Tucker Barnhart and Jonathan Schoop. Barnhart has carved himself a nice career as a fine backup backstop, consistently ranking as one of the league’s better framers. He can’t hit, though, so there’s not much he could add to a Yankee catching depth chart that already includes effective framers who don’t hit. Schoop brings some interesting defensive versatility, having played every position on the infield, but he owns a 62 OPS+ for this, his age-30 season. It’s been a tough go of it for a formerly reliable veteran who had a 107 OPS+ from 2019-21 with Minnesota and Detroit.
The Tigers viewed 2022 as a year where they’d open up their next window of contention. Instead, they’re 12 games out in the AL Central and will sell at the deadline. Yet their roster is mostly devoid of prime trade targets, and buying teams will have to sate themselves with a couple of solid relievers. If the Yankees find themselves looking for more relief depth, they could do far worse than Fulmer and Chafin. If they want for much else, they’ll have to shop somewhere other than Detroit.