DETROIT -- Close to a dozen scouts watched the Tigers and Blue Jays on Friday and Saturday at Comerica Park. That's not a surprise, given the potential trade pieces the teams have with Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Francisco Liriano and Jose Bautista. But adding Michael Fulmer to that list would be one of the surprises of the trading season so far.
Many of the same clubs that have kept an eye on Verlander over his last couple starts, including Friday's series opener, did the same with Fulmer on the mound Saturday evening in the Tigers' 11-1 victory. Among those with scouts present were the Cubs, who reportedly expressed interest in Fulmer earlier this month before acquiring Jose Quintana this week -- and are still in search for starting pitching help. The Yankees and Braves, two clubs also expected to seek arms, were also represented.
The Tigers haven't signaled any willingness to trade Fulmer, but many teams would have interest in acquiring him, and more teams are expected to follow the Cubs' lead. And as the Tigers encounter the challenge of finding teams willing to deal highly-regarded prospects for Verlander while also taking on the bulk of his remaining contract, the potential return for Fulmer could be much larger. The irony would be that they'd be looking for the next Fulmer, who was a Mets prospect when the Tigers traded Yoenis Cespedes to New York two summers ago.
The Tigers head toward the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline with two goals: Reduce payroll and restock the farm system with good talent. Accomplishing both with Verlander will be difficult, given the contract. Trading Fulmer could reshape Detroit's prospect rankings, but would accomplish little with team payroll; Fulmer won't be eligible for salary arbitration until after next season. The exception would be if the Tigers asked interested teams to take on one of their big contracts as part of a Fulmer offer, a tactic the Braves used in shedding the Melvin Upton Jr. contract as part of Craig Kimbrel's trade to San Diego in 2015.
In the meantime, Fulmer rolls on, delivering not just dominant starts but chewing up innings. While Verlander has yet to throw a pitch in the eighth inning this season, Fulmer has pitched eight innings or deeper five times this season, and has six more seven-inning performances. His eight innings of two-hit ball Saturday required just 101 pitches, the second time this year he completed eight innings in 101 pitches or fewer.
Fulmer is averaging 14.56 pitches per inning, most efficient among qualified American League starters. His 1.32 groundout/flyout ratio ranks seventh among AL starters, while his .321 slugging percentage allowed ranks second behind Boston's Chris Sale.
"I think he's unique," manager Brad Ausmus said, "because he's a power pitcher that can pitch to contact. He can miss the barrel of the bat."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.