The Rundown: It’s Officially Baseball Season, Fulmer Joins Cubs with Question Marks, Rules Changes Primer
“I can still recall the time she said she was always mine. Then she left as people do, and forgets all that we’ve been through.” – Hoodoo Gurus, I Want You Back
Baseball is back, baby, and so is spring! It’s been unseasonably warm here in Milwaukee — I drove around yesterday with the top down on my car — and it seems like the sun is always shining lately. It feels good!
Today marks an equinox of sorts for baseball. Football season is officially over, and pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring camps this week. As a result, The Rundown returns to its in-season format starting today, which just means different section headings and more links to music. After all, baseball makes all of us happy, so why not celebrate with song? I’m headed to Tampa tomorrow afternoon, so this column will be an evening affair on Wednesday and Thursday. I’m taking Friday off, but will return Saturday morning.
Here’s the good news: I haven’t been this excited about baseball in a long time, so I’m thinking of going to seven columns per week. I will decide this week while traveling, but I’m leaning heavily toward that type of workload. Taking some time off has rejuvenated my passion for writing. In fact, I may take a week off next year, too.
“But hey, enough of my yakkin’. Whaddaya say — let’s boogie!” – Marty DiBergi
I’ve got to admit, I was pretty jacked up when the Cubs signed Michael Fulmer last week. I’ve thought all along he could be a potential closer and I’ve championed his signing since November. But then I spoke to a scout friend of mine who thinks Fulmer is going to struggle a great deal this year. He talked my ear off about the 29-year-old righty and made a lot of sense.
- “Fulmer isn’t going to close because he struggles with command and because the Cubs have Brandon Hughes. The problem is that Hughes is the only lefty reliever on the roster. They should have signed Andrew Chafin instead.”
- “In addition to his struggles commanding the strike zone, Fulmer is starting to see deterioration in his pitch arsenal. His pitch velocities have declined by more than a mile per hour on all of his offerings, and his slider has lost more than an inch of horizontal and vertical break.”
- “If his fastball isn’t touching 94-95 mph, his slider is a lot less effective, especially if it doesn’t move.”
- “He has a lot of lazy tendencies, particularly in spring training. Don’t be surprised if he’s a little behind once the season starts.”
- “Fulmer is on the brink of significant regression. His strikeout rate is below league average and his walk rate increased significantly last season. That makes it very tough to be a sustainably reliable relief pitcher.”
I know Hoyer sees fixable things, so perhaps the staff can help him recapture his velocity and movement. Fulmer’s best weapon is his slider, but the results could be disastrous if his secondaries aren’t effective and he’s losing spin/break.
The Cubs still need to find a lefty for their bullpen and the pickings are slim, though the prices are dropping. Matt Moore, Zack Britton, and Will Smith are the best options available, but do any of them move the needle? Mark Leiter Jr. is not on the 40-man, but he’s a better option than those three. It’s too bad Burl Carraway didn’t pan out, though he still has time to turn things around. I don’t think Carraway is a top-100 prospect in the Cubs system anymore.
Cubs News & Notes
- Cubs players already have begun to descend upon Mesa as pitchers and catchers prepare for their first official workout Wednesday. The first full-squad gathering is the following week.
- With that in mind, the team has a lot to sort out over the next six weeks. Opening Day is March 30 at Wrigley Field.
- We’re still waiting on those contract extensions for Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner. Hopefully, Hoyer will have something to announce on that front this week.
- If you go back to the start of his career in 2019, Hoerner has performed better on the right side both on a rate basis and a total basis, despite less playing time there. He’s going to be very good at second base.
- Seiya Suzuki looks like he has bulked up, though I’m hoping he’s working on reducing that strikeout rate.
- Suzuki applied the lessons he learned as a rookie to his offseason training regimen.
- The second-year right fielder wants to be an offensive force for Chicago’s North Side baseballers this season.
- The battle for bullpen spots should be the most compelling storyline this spring.
- I’m going to disagree and say prospect watching will be an everyday occurrence. The guys I’m watching are Brennen Davis, Matt Mervis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcántara, Ben Brown, and Ryan Jensen. PCA is the most intriguing non-roster invitee the Cubs have had in almost a decade.
- The Cubs are ranked No. 8 among the 10 teams that won the offseason, according to MLB insider Anthony Castrovince.
- I made it through the entire winter without posting a lineup projection column. Somebody owes me a quarter.
Odds & Sods
So long, NFL, but let me leave you with the Chris Berman Nickname Show from 1993, which is mostly baseball stuff.
Climbing the Ladder
“I feel so good I’m going to break somebody’s heart tonight.” – Richard Thompson, Feel So Good
No one else on the Cubs’ staff besides Kyle Hendricks has started an opener for the North Siders, but Marcus Stroman and Jameson Taillon have each started on Opening Day. Stroman did so in 2016 and ’19 for the Blue Jays, while Taillon started for the Pirates in ’19.
How About That!
With spring camps set to open this week, MLB is about to embark on perhaps its greatest challenge yet: implementing dramatic on-field rule changes designed to make baseball more entertaining and played at a better pace.
Derek Jeter has joined the FOX broadcasting team and will serve mostly as an in-studio analyst.
The Dodgers have agreed to an incentive-heavy, one-year deal with former All-Star closer Alex Reyes.
The Marlins have acquired left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk from the Athletics in exchange for outfielder JJ Bleday, the teams announced.
Mets owner Steve Cohen clapped back at other league owners who have questioned his excess this winter.
An unnamed Red Sox player claims the Dodgers cheated during the 2018 World Series and that MLB knew but did nothing about it.
Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, and Justin Verlander represent baseball’s most impactful free-agent signings this winter.
“Tooby ooby walla, nooby abba naba. Early mornin’ singin’ song.”
— Bruce McClure (@BruceMcClureNH) February 13, 2023
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- I’m back to writing for Bears Insider and pretty much nailed it with my prediction of Super Bowl LVII.
- The Justin Fields trade rumors are out of control.
- In the most highly anticipated Super Bowl halftime show in recent memory, Rihanna cranked through a medley of her hits on a moving platform that resembled a Super Mario Bros. stage. Two things we learned about the pop diva last night: She’s not afraid of heights and she’s pregnant.
- That Tubi commercial was super annoying, wasn’t it?
- US fighter jets shot down two more high-altitude objects this weekend, one over the Yukon on Saturday, and the other over Lake Huron in Michigan yesterday. They mark the fourth time in eight days that American aviators have brought down aircraft over North America.
- When Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania hits US theaters this Friday, it’ll kick off Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Last year, no Marvel film made more than $1 billion at the box office.
They Said It
- “I think that people are going to be surprised as to just how close the Cubs actually are to being a contending team.” – Crow-Armstrong
- “[Fulmer] can get outs at 90 [mph], he can get outs at 98 [mph], I don’t really care. I just want him to locate his pitches where he wants, and that to me is the most important part of [his arsenal].” – A.J. Hinch
- “We’re not the only team that does [it], but certainly that’s a big part of the game now, is trying to talk to pitchers about the things we can tweak…the things we can do to make [them] feel better and try to put them in a good position to succeed.” – Jed Hoyer
Monday Walk-Up Song
Is it baseball yet? Almost. The Cubs’ first Cactus League tilt is two weeks away.