Tigers right-handed starting pitcher Michael Fulmer is likely to undergo Tommy John surgery after receiving reccomendations from the Tigers’ medical staff and renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, per the Detroit Free Press’ Anthony Fenech. Fulmer, however, is reportedly seeking a third opinion:
Michael Fulmer has been recommended to undergo right elbow ligament reconstruction surgery, I’m told.— Anthony Fenech (@anthonyfenech) March 19, 2019
Fulmer received two medical opinions to undergo the surgery, from Tigers team doctors and also orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, and is seeking a third.— Anthony Fenech (@anthonyfenech) March 19, 2019
Fulmer’s injury likely won’t make a huge difference for a Tigers team that was likely to be one of the majors’ worst this season anyway. But it’s another unfortunate turn in the career of a pitcher who looked so promising just a couple years ago, winning the AL Rookie of the Year and receiving Cy Young votes in 2016, then making the AL All-Star team in 2017. Something went wrong for him around the midway point of the ‘17 season, however; he posted a 5.33 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in eight starts after the break that year, then had a career-worst 4.69 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 24 starts in 2018. Certainly not terrible numbers, but not ones befitting of the ace status that he seemingly had earned almost immediately after being called up in April 2016.
The worst consequence of this injury for the Tigers may be that they’ll have to wait at least another year if they’re hoping that Fulmer can rebuild his value and turn himself into a valuable trade chip. In a Tigers organization that doesn’t have much talent on the major-league roster and still has a farm system that is quite top-heavy (albeit improved vastly from where it was a couple years ago), Fulmer is one of the few guys who realistically would’ve had the potential to bring them a big return if he had been able to turn things around this year. Now that he (both physically and metaphorically) has the scars from having undergone Tommy John, it’s unclear how much of a desired commodity he’ll be going forward.
Though the Tigers’ rotation is by no means elite, it’s actually quite deep, and it won’t be too tough for them to replace Fulmer at the outset of the season. Their Opening Day starting five is likely to include Jordan Zimmermann, Matthew Boyd, Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, and Daniel Norris. That’s three out of five guys who were demoted to the bullpen by their respective teams last summer, but all of them have substantial experience as major-league starters and should at least be able to eat some innings.