Let’s Dream Up a Michael Fulmer Trade

The Yankees are currently in the process of shoving all their chips towards the middle of the table, going all-in on their young core of premium position-player talent. Trading for Giancarlo Stanton was part of that effort. Even trading away Bryan Mitchell in order not to pay Chase Headley was part of it, too. It allowed the club to situate themselves at something like $30 million under the tax threshold. Now there’s a link forming between the Tigers and the Yankees, with Michael Fulmer as the prize. Let’s dream this one up.

The Yankees’ stable of good prospects is such that any trade like this conjures up visions of a Superdeal. Check out all the names that have already flooded social media.

Which of those name are more realistic than others, though? We can start narrowing down the list by looking at the kind of surplus value that Fulmer offers, and what that has traditionally returned for that kind of value.

The Tigers’ righty is projected to regress next year — from 3.5 wins down to 2.8, according to the projections at the site here. We could round that figure and just call him a three-win pitcher, but it’s also probably worth noting that Fulmer has suppressed balls in play over each of the past two seasons. Steamer appears to apply a fair does of regression to his home-run and BABIP figures. It’s possible that Fulmer actually possesses some real talent in this area, though. Consider: changeups elicit the lowest average launch angle and lowest exit velocity of all the pitch types — and, man, does Fulmer have a good changeup.

It’s not surprising, then, that Fulmer’s changeup allowed a top-10 launch angle among starting pitchers. Hard to hit them out if you can’t hit them up.

So there’s a reasonable case to be made that he’s a candidate to exceed his projections. Let’s call him a three-win pitcher for the forseeable future, though. After all, he’s 24, has that changeup and good velocity, and possesses no obvious flaws other than some tangles with the injury bug. If he gave the Yankees 15 wins in five years — one at the league minimum, and then four years in which arbitration will likely pay him at about 20%/40%/60%/80% of his market value — Fulmer would be worth a whopping $72 million in surplus, if you use a stagnant $8 million per win over the life of his team control. Given recent trends in the market, that’s very likely on the low end, but it probably makes sense to err on the conservative side here.

According to research on the subject from Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli in 2016, that kind of player would be worth a hitting prospect ranked from 11th to 25th and a pitcher in the back end of the top 100.

Of course, there’s no way to be really precise about this sort of thing. Not only do some parties contest dollars-per-win calculations and prospect valuations, but there are also no current top-100 prospect lists to use as a guide post. And then there’s scarcity: how many pitchers as cheap and as good as Michael Fulmer are available on the market?

But at least this lets us understand what sort of prospects the Tigers can expect. A player like Gleyber Torres, who was among the top-10 prospects in Eric Longenhagen’s midseason update, could headline the deal all by himself. But the rumors indicate he’s not an option.

So, Clint Frazier? Who was a top-40 hitter in the midseason and probably didn’t shift his ranking too far with a high-powered, low-contact debut? He’s a start, but not enough probably, coming in around $40 million in surplus value.

And maybe Justus Sheffield? He didn’t make the midseason top 100, but this writer — and Longenhagen, as well — were impressed by his Arizona Fall League outings. “He was freaking electric,” Longenhagen wrote in a chat recently, noting that Sheffield’s velocity was up two ticks, that his slider was more plus than above average, and that the changeup looked workable. Consider this video, in which he gets a swinging strike from Astros top prospect Kyle Tucker:

Longenhagen guesstimated that he’d put Sheffield in the top 100 if he had a list right now, which would bring our package up to $50 million in surplus. That would still require another prospect from the Yankees to get the prize, but they could use this moment to take a step back and add a demand that may not faze the Tigers much: a veteran infielder who can provide production now as the team waits for Gleyber Torres and others to be ready.

“Sure, you can have Ian Kinsler,” would probably be the reply. He’s paid $10 million for 2018 and is projected to be a little better than league average, so now you need to hit $85 million in surplus.

“Easy,” says Brian Cashman. “As long as you value our righty starter Chance Adams as a top-50 pitcher, we’re there now.” He was 64th in the summer, finished the season well, and would move up just by virtue of a few graduations off that mid-summer list.

So, who hangs up first? Ian Kinsler and Michael Fulmer for Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Chance Adams? Would the Tigers need another bat to push this over the hill? Is this enough of a haul for them to trade away a young arm with five years of team control left? Do the Yankees swallow hard and trade their two best prospect arms in order to put together a rotation that is solid to serious in each slot?

Let’s get the popcorn out.

We hoped you liked reading Let’s Dream Up a Michael Fulmer Trade by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Sheryl Ring
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Great article…except Adams is a RHP.