Cubs add veteran reliever Michael Fulmer
Thomas Shea - USA Today Sports

Cubs add veteran reliever Michael Fulmer

by - Senior Writer -

It finally happened. After weeks of talking about adding another reliever to their bullpen mix, Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins hold true as they not only added a reliever, but one that has been linked to the Cubs for a while now.

No, it wasn't a left-hander like most people expected, but a guy who was formally a starter moved to the bullpen and has now transformed himself into an excellent reliever capable of getting both right-handers and left-handers out. The man is 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and former Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins RHP Michael Fulmer as he has agreed to terms with the Chicago Cubs.

While the contract details are yet to be officially released, I would expect this deal to be at least a one-year deal with the potential of it being a second-year option. The addition of Fulmer brings a lot of intrigue to it, mainly because of the variety of roles he can fill. Even with this addition, the Cubs may not be done, as they would like to bring in another lefty to pair with Brandon Hughes unless some of their minor-league options pan out.

Although Fulmer is not a left-hander, he is really good and does come with starter experience. That means he is one of those rare relievers that can get both left and right-handers out, which is critical in today's game with the three-better minimum. The 2016 AL Rookie of the year and former starting pitcher, Fulmer posted an 11-7 record as a rookie to go with a 3.06 ERA. That alone gave him plenty of hype and a guy the Tigers hoped to build their rotation around for years to come.

The following two seasons saw Fulmer start nearly 50 games with the Tigers, but he struggled to do much of anything, going a combined 13-24 with a 4.49 ERA. After missing 2019 with an injury, Fulmer returned to the rotation in 2020 and went 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA across 10 starts. Those were his last days as a starter as the Tigers converted him to the bullpen ahead of the 2021 season.

That move not only benefitted Fulmer, but it could be the move that ultimately saved his career after his days as a starter were coming to an end. Since being transformed into a full-time reliever, Fulmer has been outstanding and has been a busy man out of the pen.

Fulmer has appeared in 119 games the past two seasons, including 62 last year, and has posted a 3.14 ERA during that span. That includes his 2.97 ERA in 2021 and a 3.39 ERA last season, as he has gone 10-12 in relief during that time. Fulmer has also shown a vast improvement with his command since moving to the pen, as his walk rate hovers around 8% with a near 25% strikeout rate.

With the contract details still being finalized, expect him to be added to the roster next week when camp breaks. That will allow the Cubs to add guys like Codi Heuer and Ethan Roberts to the 60-day IL to free up a 40-man roster spot for Fulmer. Once added, the Cubs will have one of the better-remaining free agents on the market capable of holding down several roles.

Ideally, this was a move to give the Cubs flexibility, as he can be used as a multi-inning guy in relief. Given the three-batter minimum that has been implemented, Fulmer is a guy that can give you multiple innings and could allow David Ross to use other guys in different situations.

Fulmer also gives the Cubs some back end of the bullpen help, which is something this team is still looking for. Not only does Fulmer have 34 career holds, with a career-best 25 coming last season, but he has also added 17 career saves. Fourteen of those came in 2021 during his first season as a reliever, so there is some closing experience there.

Looking at the Cubs bullpen right now, they don't have a closer per se, but Adbert Alzolay, Keegan Thompson, Brad Boxberger, Manny Rodriguez, and Brandon Hughes are all expected to compete for that job in camp. Fulmer will be another one of those guys given an opportunity while also trying his luck in different relief roles.

At 29 years old, Fulmer has plenty of gas left in the tank, even more, so that he made the move to the pen. He tends to sit in the 93-94 MPH range with his heater, but has been clocked around 96 and even 97 at times. He mixes that heater with a solid change and slider giving him a nice three-pitch mix to build around.

This was a deal that was talked about for a long time and a long time coming. Now that it is done, the Cubs head into spring with a new look pen and the mindset that they will compete for the NL Central crown in 2023.

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