Cubs Reportedly Signing RHP Michael Fulmer

Update: Fulmer’s deal is reportedly for one year and $4 million, leaving the Cubs with around $8 million under the first CBT threshold. Based on what’s been happening with the reliever market lately, that could mean there’s enough to add one more arm — probably a lefty — to the bullpen. They can do so without making a corresponding roster move now that the 60-day IL is open again.

Per Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs have reached an agreement with former Tigers and Twins righty Michael Fulmer. Terms of the deal are not known at this point and I’m really interested to see where it lands because the former AL Rookie of the Year has pitched really well since transitioning to the bullpen full-time. Fulmer began his career as a starter, but struggled badly with performance and injuries until changing roles.

He missed all of 2019 between parts of ’18 and ’20 due to Tommy John surgery and an ulnar nerve transposition, then was downright awful in that COVID-shortened season. Once he got back to full strength and started pitching in relief, however, Fulmer’s performance rebounded in a big way. After dipping from around 96 to just over 93 mph, his fastball was back up to 95.5 in ’21.

It was only a little over 94 mph last year across a career-high 67 appearances for the Tigers and Twins, but Fulmer allowed a career-low four homers in that time (0.57 HR/9). Much of that came from leaning very heavily into the slider, a pitch he threw almost 64% of the time last season. His changeup and curve were all but abandoned, though getting back to the offspeed a little more often could help against left-handed hitters.

Fulmer’s stark splits in ’22 were out of character for him because he’s been almost neutral throughout his career. He was actually slightly better against lefties if you take out a season in which he allowed a .337/.404/.526 slash with a .393 wOBA to 109 batters. Righties were at just .188/.287/.257 with a .243 wOBA, so the fastball/slider combo was great at holding them in check.

That does make me wonder whether the Cubs are still targeting another southpaw for a bullpen that is crying out for more lefties. Even if Tommy Hottovy and crew can get things back to normal, Fulmer figures to have mild reverse splits at best. With as many as four spots opening up soon on the 40-man roster, there is certainly room to add.

At the same time, Jed Hoyer has less than $12 million left under the CBT threshold before finalizing Fulmer’s deal. Assuming the front office wants to avoid tax penalties while still leaving room for in-season acquisitions, this might be it for the guaranteed contracts. We may have to wait for an official announcement because pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, at which point the Cubs can add Fulmer without having to DFA someone else.

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