By: Will Burchfield
Tigers fans held their breath last fall when it was announced that 24-year-old All-Star Michael Fulmer would undergo surgery on his right elbow.
The procedure was minor, a relocation of the nerve in his forearm with a recovery time of about three months, but it was cause for concern nonetheless.
Nearly three months later, Fulmer’s recovery is right on track.
“Michael Fulmer’s doing great,” general manager Al Avila told MLB Network on Wednesday.
Fulmer has been at the team’s spring training facility in Lakeland, Fla., slowly rebuilding his arm strength. So far, so good.
“He’s already been throwing out to 120 feet I believe,” Avila said. “The reports are he has no issues at this time, so he’ll be ready for spring training as far as the timeline is concerned.”
Barring anything unexpected, Fulmer will open the 2018 season as the Tigers’ ace. In 22 starts last year he went 10-12 with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. He led the AL with 0.7 HR/9.
Fulmer’s name popped up in trade talks at last month’s Winter Meetings, most notably in connection to the Yankees, but Avila has no intention to trade him. He’s a front-line starting pitcher under team control through 2022.
“He very easily can fit into our long-term plans,” Avila said. “There have been teams that have shown some interest in him, for the obvious reasons. He’s an excellent pitcher, he’s young and he’s got controllable years.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Avila seems to have some concern over Jordan Zimmermann. And understandably so. The 31-year-old righty is coming off a disastrous, injury-riddled season and the Tigers owe him $74 million through 2020.
Contracts such as Zimmermann’s, Avila said, are part of the reason this offseason has seen a slow free agent market.
“If you look at the history of long-term, expensive contracts with older pitchers, not a lot of them have turned out very well. We have our own situation with Jordan Zimmermann. Quite frankly, his arm is perfectly fine but he’s had an issue with his neck and he’s been injured, so I think teams are being very careful in looking at past history and those kind of signings,” Avila said.
After dealing Ian Kinsler to the Angels last month, the rest of the offseason figures to be quiet for the Tigers. The teardown is complete.
“Obviously, we’ve traded every player that we felt we could at this point, lowered the payroll as much as we could, added as many prospects as we could,” said Avila. “You can say we’re right in the middle of the full rebuild.”