With the trade deadline less than a month away, the Dodgers are about to be connected to a bunch of different rumors. The first major one came over the recent holiday:
The #Dodgers are doubling down: They not only are aggressively pursuing #Orioles SS Manny Machado, but also #Tigers starter Michael Fulmer. The #Orioles, heavily scouting the Dodgers’ minor-league system, want Class A pitcher Dustin May included in any package of prospects.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 3, 2018
The Manny Machado link makes some amount of sense, though the need has been lessened by the emergence of Max Muncy. What a world. Given the internal opinion of Dustin May, I doubt the Dodgers would want to part with him over a rental in a position of questionable need. This post isn’t about Machado and May, though.
Instead, it’s worth addressing the inclusion of Michael Fulmer in this rumor. Fulmer’s name is widely known because he was 2016’s American League Rookie of the Year, and pitches for a team which could be looking to offload a cost-controlled talented player for a big prospect haul. However, the utility of Fulmer on this Dodger team is very questionable.
Fulmer’s numbers have been worsening since his rookie campaign. After posting a 3.06 ERA in his debut season, that number backed up to 3.83 in 2017 and 4.22 this year. His peripherals have matched that decline. Baseball Prospectus’ DRA estimates that Fulmer has been about 10% worse than a league-average pitcher this year, a big step back from his previous two seasons. Its WARP has him near replacement-level now. Their projection has him as a little better than league-average going forward, but the decline so for this season is a little alarming.
The most tantalizing thing about Fulmer is his velocity. So far this season, both of his fastballs are averaging over 96 mph. Among full-time starters, he has the fourth-highest sinker velocity and the seventh-highest fourseam velocity. However, unlike the pitchers above him on those leaderboards, Fulmer does not miss many bats. He posts a worse than league-average strikeout rate, and he currently has a career-high walk rate to go with it.
The biggest problem with this rumor is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Fulmer is an okay pitcher, but the prospect cost for him would be pretty high, given that the Dodgers would be trading for half a year of league-minimum salary and four further years of control. The league-minimum part is probably attractive to the Dodgers given their quest to reset the luxury tax penalty, but the Tigers’ rebuild is in a state where they wouldn’t be very interested in high-salary players as a part of the potential trade return. They’d want prospects instead.
Fulmer’s fit on the roster is not clear-cut. The Dodgers already have plenty of average to slightly above-average pitchers on the team. He’s not definitively better than Clayton Kershaw, Ross Stripling, Kenta Maeda, or Alex Wood, all of whom are currently healthy. This doesn’t include Walker Buehler, who is also better than Fulmer and is a week or two away from re-joining the team. This also doesn’t include the potential returns of Hyun-Jin Ryu or Julio Urias. Rich Hill has looked better of late too. Adding Fulmer would allow the Dodgers to slide one of those players into relief, potentially, but making the rotation worse to make the bullpen better is more of a lateral move than an upgrade.
The Dodgers trading for another starter isn’t out of the realm of possibility. However, if they do so, it has to be one who actually improves the rotation. More of the same wouldn’t really help anything, unless the Dodgers plan to change something drastic like Fulmer’s pitch mix or move him to the bullpen.
This returns us to an important rule of trade rumors: if it doesn’t make sense, it probably isn’t true. This doesn’t make much sense on paper, so that rule is important to keep that rule in mind. Also, consider the source. This just doesn’t seem all that plausible.