The Rundown: Confident Recruiting Pitch Landed Fulmer, Steele Could Be Dominant, Alzolay Going to Multi-Inning Relief Role

“You’ve got the brawn, I’ve got the brains. Let’s make lots of money.” – Pet Shop Boys, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)

After reading the latest article ($) by Sadahev Sharma of The Athletic, I’m a little more enthusiastic about the acquisition of Michael Fulmer. The reliever has added a sweeping slider to his repertoire and it sounds like his offseason success with that pitch was the impetus for his contract with the Cubs. Jed Hoyer prefers to develop homegrown pitching, but the prospect line to Chicago is just underway. Fulmer, however, checks the boxes on the team’s offseason shopping list.

“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,” Hoyer said when announcing Fulmer’s deal. “[We look for] things we can do to make [them] feel better and try to put them in a good position to succeed.”

Even before signing the 29-year-old righty, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and assistant GM Craig Breslow suggested to Fulmer that he add the pitch. It almost makes you think they actually monitored the reliever’s success with the new offering before inking his deal.

“They wanted me to add a little bigger breaking ball,” Fulmer said. “I was mainly cutter last year. It worked well, but they wanted to see some more swing-and-miss stuff. They showed a grip on a bigger breaking ball.

“They’re going to work with me some more on it. I’ve thrown it all off-season and feel good about it. It’s getting there for sure.”

Recruiting has really changed thanks to modern technology. Hottovy and Breslow conducted Zoom meetings with Fulmer and started incorporating the tweaks before anything was official. That Fulmer could have signed anywhere but chose the Cubs says a lot about the way the front office is conducting business. I would imagine their coaching infrastructure was part of the negotiations with Brad Boxberger, Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, and Trey Mancini, all of whom are looking for rebound seasons.

When it comes to pitching, the front office looks for specific attributes when they approach free agents about pitch additions and/or grip changes. They did the same thing when recruiting Jameson Taillon.

“Where we want to start with is looking at performance and working backward,” Breslow said. “Any pitch with a lot of horizontal movement is going to favor same-sided hitters. So we can look at how his performance has been as a right-handed pitcher versus right-handed hitters, especially putaway counts where we’re prioritizing swing-and-miss. That’s a decent place to start in terms of [a] zoomed-out view, ‘What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?'”

After being a little negative when Fulmer signed, my outlook has reversed course. The Cubs need a closer and may have found one thanks to a very transparent recruiting strategy. Imagine telling a pitcher how he can improve weeks before agreeing to a deal. Fulmer could have signed with the Dodgers, Padres, or one of Chicago’s divisional rivals. Instead, he entered camp with a synergistic game plan that was developed long before putting pen to paper on his one-year deal.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Considering Cleveland’s devastating loss in the 2016 World Series and last year’s name change, the Guardians and Terry Francona do have all the attributes of a Hallmark Channel rom-com.

Climbing the Ladder

“But if this ever changin’ world in which we’re livin’ makes you give in and cry…” – Guns N’ Roses, Live and Let Die

I’ve tried to stay away from PECOTA projections because they make me unhappy, but there is no denying that the Cubs could be baseball’s most expensive mediocre team in 2023. The algorithm from Baseball Prospectus has Chicago going 77-85, just a three-game improvement from last year. Accordingly, PECOTA believes Chicago’s North Side baseballers have a 9.5% chance to make the playoffs and a 4.2% chance to win the division. That’s a tough $225 million meal to digest.

To a man, Hoyer’s trust-the-process roster is going to have to outperform projections to make the playoffs. That means 2023 is a very expensive fifth-year transition season. The Cubs will hit the trade deadline having played about 105 games. What is your buy/sell dividing line as far as wins at that point? I say the Cubs should be sellers unless they have at least 54 wins.

How About That!

Former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was this year’s most irreplaceable free agent.

Padres owner Peter Seidler said his top priority is retaining Manny Machado once the shortstop opts out of his current contract.

Álex Rodríguez is baseball’s richest player ever (as of today) and has a net worth of $350 million. He made a total of $450 million during his playing career.

Ex-Cub Phil Regan is suing the Mets for age discrimination.

The Mets have moved the fences in at Citi Field, which may give Pete Alonso a shot at 60 home runs this season.

The agent for Shohei Ohtani said that the two-way superstar deserves the option to explore free agency after this season.

Take Me Out to The Ballgame

I used to love the way PlayStation promoted MLB The Show in old television ads, with my favorites featuring Dustin Pedroia. Here’s a list of every player bestowed the honor of making the iconic video game cover.

The national pastime has reached a troubling state, as the following four links indicate:

  1. Rob Manfred openly admitted a gulf exists between MLB’s haves and have-nots during his Cactus League Media Day presser. In other words, baseball’s top exec believes that several teams have no chance at contending.
  2. The percentage of Black Americans on MLB rosters has dropped by more than half since 1991. The situation is so flagrant that last year, for the first time since 1950, there was not a single American-born Black player on the roster of either team in the World Series.
  3. The pending bankruptcy and possible collapse of the Diamond Sports Group may cause 14 teams to reimagine the regional sports network approach and how those teams will distribute their televised games.
  4. According to Rick Rosenthal of The Athletic, tensions over this year’s arbitration rulings ($) could lead to another contentious round of collective bargaining negotiations.

Extra Innings

When it comes to hype videos, very few media teams can compete with the Cubs. I am still in awe of the bulked-up Suzuki, and yes, that was Dansby Swanson with a one-armed rocket in the cages. Wow.

Wednesday Morning Six-Pack

  1. A proper hacker leaves a thank you note once exiting your preferred movie streaming app.
  2. If your life has become too mundane to get excited about anything, I give you this 14-minute video of a man shaving his beard into eight separate facial hair styles. No need to thank me.
  3. Twitter’s trending topics this morning scream “Apocalypse approaching!”
  4. A cigarette butt helped to solve a 52-year-old murder case in Vermont. Detective Scotty Valens would have solved it in under an hour, commercials included.
  5. You know that there is a lull in entertainment news when reporters start to rehash the heavyweight Bill Murray-Chevy Chase feud. That said, few go as deep as this piece does.
  6. Your 2007 first-gen iPhone could be worth as much as $63,000 if you find the right auction house.

They Said It

  • “There’s a lot of ways to generate swing-and-miss. You can try to get a guy to throw harder, you can change the shape, and you can look at usage and location. [That] is one path. From there, you start to think about characteristics that lend themselves to this pitch. That’s probably where I have to be a little careful with what I share.” – Breslow
  • “Yeah, I’m not out here not to make a team. I’m out here to compete and give them a tough choice to make at the end of spring. I know when my time is called, I’m gonna be ready. Whether that’s now or in a month or in two months or whenever. I’m gonna do whatever I can to be the best version of myself.” – Davis
  • “We knew [Suzuki] was working hard, but it’s fun to see him in person and realize that he wasn’t kidding about coming in stronger. When I look at our lineup, we have a lot of guys that we’re going to get really quality at-bats.” – Hoyer

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

Billy Joel gave Beethoven a songwriting credit because he turned the second movement of LvB’s tragic and spacious Piano Sonata No. 8 (II. adagio cantabile), commonly known as Sonata Pathétique, into the chorus of a modern-day doo-wop song. Now you know why they call Joel the “Piano Man.”

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