The Philadelphia Phillies didn't complete an earth-shattering trade's at this week's MLB Winter Meetings, though they are likely to be connected to any stars perceived to be available over the course of the next calendar year. They also didn't trade second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who with top prospect Scott Kingery looming at Triple-A, also figures to continue to find his name on MLBTradeRumors.com.
In an appearance on The Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic Thursday, Jayson Stark offered a solution that could allow the Phillies to move Hernandez, while also landing a star:
"Here's something I would keep an eye on. Cesar Hernandez is a big trade chip for them potentially. If they make a major acquisition this offseason, I think it will be by trading him. And what they're looking for, from what I'm hearing, if they trade Cesar Hernandez, is a package that would be centered around the starting pitching version of him...at least as many years of control as he has, which would be three years. And here's a guy to keep an eye on: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers."
Later in his answer, Stark explained why he thought Hernandez would be a good fit in a trade for Fulmer, and did also note that the two teams have had some sort of dialogue:
"I just think the control lines up - four years of control [for Fulmer]. The Tigers just traded their second baseman. The former scouting director of the Phillies, Marti Wolever, is now working for the Tigers - [he] knows their young players. I could see that happening. It sounds like they've checked in at least."
It's unclear who initiated contact between the two teams and what exactly was discussed. The Phillies may have checked in on Fulmer. The Tigers may have checked in on Hernandez. Both may have happened. It's unclear if the two sides had any sort of discussion surrounding a trade that would involve both.
Regardless of that, there are elements of this discussion that make some sense.
As Stark said, the Tigers traded Ian Kinsler to the Angels this week, both creating a hole at second base for them and taking the perceived No. 1 suitor for Hernandez off the board. Beyond a simply speculative fit between the two teams, the Tigers do have a history of being interested in Hernandez. Last offseason, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that if the Tigers traded Kinsler, they could then use J.D. Martinez to acquire Hernandez (it was a report, not just a suggestion). That, of course, didn't happen, and Martinez, who ended up hitting 45 home runs in 2017, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in July.
As for Fulmer, there hasn't been a direct connection yet. But he's a really good 24-year-old pitcher, and the Tigers, who posted the league's worst record in 2017, could turn Fulmer into multiple productive pieces. There's reason to think the Phillies could pursue someone like Fulmer as well. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported in July that the Phillies 'poked around' on controllable starters. It doesn't get much more controllable than Fulmer, who is under team control through the 2022 season. (We know that the Phillies have at least looked around on the starting pitching market, as Robert Murray of FanRag Sports reported Wednesday that the team checked in with the Diamondbacks on Zack Greinke.)
Here's the thing: while it might make sense for the Tigers to be interested in Hernandez and the Phillies to be interested in Fulmer, it's difficult to envision the two headlining the same trade.
Hernandez, 27, has led the Phillies in walks for three consecutive seasons, has hit .294 in consecutive seasons and FanGraphs says he's been the second best fielding second baseman in baseball since the start of the 2016 season. When you add in that he can't become a free-agent until after the 2020 season, it's easy to see why the Phillies reportedly are seeking a fairly large return for Hernandez.
With that said, the trade values of Hernandez and Fulmer aren't even comparable. Despite the fact that Fulmer underwent elbow surgery in September, he's a power pitcher that hasn't even reached arbitration yet. He won the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year. Despite struggling in the second half of the 2017 season (that may have been because he wasn't healthy), a strong start to the 2017 season allowed Fulmer to make the American League All-Star team in his second year.
If the Phillies wanted to make a serious push for Fulmer, they would have to tap into some of their minor league pitching talent. Sixto Sanchez seems to be all-but untouchable, but Adonis Medina, Franklyn Kilome, Ranger Suarez and JoJo Romero are among the minor league arms that could interest the Tigers. Though Daz Cameron and Christian Stewart could help the Tigers have a pretty strong outfield by the end of this decade, any of the Phillies organizational outfield depth could be of interest to the Tigers. Odubel Herrera could interest them because he's signed at a cheap rate through 2023 (2022 and 2023 are club options), meaning he could either be part of their next contending team or he could again be flipped if a team was willing to offer an Adam Eaton-type package. Even then, the Phillies would face stiff competition - with the New York Yankees likely to make a serious push - if the Tigers seriously shopped Fulmer.
Hernandez could be included in the trade, but he would have to be one of the pieces in the deal, not necessarily the headliner. The Phillies may feel he has more value in a trade where he's the most noteworthy player being moved.
The idea of the Tigers making a play for Hernandez is believable. It's unclear if the Tigers will move Fulmer, but if they do, the Phillies certainly should make a push. The idea of the two headlining one trade doesn't feel likely, though.