With the official report date for Cubs pitchers and catchers just five days away, the club is bolstering its bullpen by adding Michael Fulmer, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported Friday.
Fulmer began his career in 2016 as a starter for the Tigers, missed the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery and became primarily a reliever in 2021. In 67 appearances across stints with Detroit and Minnesota last season, Fulmer — who turns 30 next month — pitched to a 3.39 ERA and a 1.366 WHIP. Overall, he owns a 2.98 ERA and a 1.318 WHIP in 115 career relief appearances.
His strikeout and walk rates both went in the wrong direction last season compared to the year before, and he did just post the lowest ground ball rate of his career (35.4 percent), but he also did an impressive job limiting barrels (4.4 percent) that helped him keep his home run/fly ball rate at a strong 5.5 percent.
The move to the bullpen also helped him rediscover some of the velocity that had been missing after the Tommy John surgery — he’s averaged mid-90s on both his sinker and his four-seamer over the last two years, according to Statcast — and he packages that with a slider that continues to hold a 30-plus percent whiff rate.
Though he has experience in high-leverage situations, the idea isn’t for the Cubs to bring him in to be their sure-fire closer. His deal, assuming it gets finalized, will likely be in the ballpark of fellow incoming Cubs reliever Brad Boxberger’s one-year, $2.8 million pact. This is in line with what’s seemingly become the Cubs’ tried-and-true formula for building their bullpen. Over the past few seasons, veterans like David Robertson, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera found success working in the Cubs’ system. Along with Boxberger, the Cubs will certainly hope Fulmer becomes another example of that.
“We’ve had a lot of success with these guys, [telling them], ‘Here’s what we see in you,'” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said during the Winter Meetings. “We’re not the only team that does that, but certainly a big part of the game now is trying to talk to pitchers about ‘here’s the things we can tweak, here are the things we can do to make you better’ and try to put them in a good position to succeed.”
With how the bullpen is currently constructed, manager David Ross likely won’t name a closer (similar to how he went about it last season, though Robertson did eventually become the de facto closer). Instead, expect Ross to bring relievers in based more on matchups and less on the inning.
Hoyer stated at both his end-of-season press conference and the Cubs Convention that his goal is to eventually build the bullpen with in-house additions. The way arms like Keegan Thompson, Brandon Hughes and Adbert Alzolay fit in this team’s relief corps actually make that seem realistic.
Hoyer’s goal was never going to be accomplished this winter, though, so the Cubs are bringing in another veteran bullpen arm whose value they believe they can maximize.