Veteran bullpen options should still be on the Chicago Cubs' radar as they look to round out an already solid offseason. One such name that's being bandied about might sound familiar to anyone who remembers the team's trade talks for a cost-controlled starter back in 2017. While the Cubs ultimately landed young White Sox stud Jose Quintana, they were originally strongly considering Michael Fulmer.
At the time, Fulmer was on the rise as one of the brightest young starters in the game with the Tigers. His first season in the league in 2016 earned him Rookie of the Year honors as he posted a 3.06 ERA with a solid 3.76 FIP. He'd follow that up with an All-Star appearance in 2017 with a 3.83 ERA while emerging as a stellar home run preventer, leading the league with a 0.7 HR/9. So convinced were the Cubs of his abilities that they nearly traded Javier Baez to land him. Things went south from there for Fulmer, however, as shoulder surgery at the end of 2017, surgery for a torn meniscus in 2018, and Tommy John in 2019 largely destroyed his value.
From 2021 on, however, he's enjoyed a quiet resurgence as a reliever. In that role between the Tigers and Twins, he's been stellar, pitching to a 3.17 ERA between 2021 and 2022. He's now a free agent and Jon Morosi dropped a tidbit on MLB Network that indicates the Cubs are definitely interested:
Michael Fulmer and the Chicago Cubs Make Sense to Unite After Years of Rumors
Morosi's language is pretty strong, specifically calling out Fulmer by name as an arm the Cubs are targeting. He makes a lot of sense for the team considering what they're best at too. The Cubs in recent years has been a destination for post-hype pitchers and veterans in need of a tune-up. Craig Kimbrel, Chris Martin, Andrew Chafin, and more have all thrived under their infrastructure. Getting Fulmer into the fold would give them an arm that's already shown a lot of promise in his short turn as a reliever so far. He already brings a wicked slider that managed a .268 xWOBA in 2022 and a fastball that can hit the mid-90s.
In terms of what the Cubs would want, he seems like a good fit. Last year, he was in the 91st percentile in barrel rate with a 23.8 percent strikeout rate and 8.5 percent walk rate the last two seasons. He also managed an xERA of 3.81 and 3.78 between 2021 and 2022 respectively with a collective 3.40 FIP between both seasons. He may not command a huge contact either thanks to his lack of high-leverage experience and injuries. The Cubs could absolutely afford to take a one-year deal to work with him and see how he continues to grow in high leverage. Given the pedigree and how good he's looked the past two years, maybe they're confident enough to give him a solid two-year contract.
Fulmer's presence would definitely help a bullpen that's still a bit short on veteran presence. They signed Brad Boxberger earlier this offseason given his recent success and they definitely have some impressive pieces with Brandon Hughes, Codi Heuer, Rowan Wick, and Adbert Alzolay in the fold. Fulmer would bring a little extra power and pedigree to deepen David Ross's high-leverage options.
Injuries are still a slight concern for Fulmer as always, but the potential is there to add a really solid arm to the back end of the bullpen. Even if he has to miss time, the Cubs aren't exactly relying on him to be a starter anymore. They have plenty of depth to turn to as well, so they can feel comfortable signing him on as a major upside play.