Early Guesswork on How the Chicago Cubs Will Handle the Closer Spot

The nature of the Chicago Cubs bullpen situation is such that it’s pretty hard to make a COMPLETELY CONFIDENT prediction on who the closer will be this season.

For the most obvious thing, there is no “established closer” on the roster. Some teams have that guy. Some don’t. That’s not that atypical for Spring Training, but the Cubs definitely fall into that group.

For another thing, the composition of the bullpen, itself, is still being sorted out, and there are guys with obvious closer upside – Jeremiah Estrada, for example – who may not actually join the bullpen until some point well into the season.

For another thing, the Cubs have a large number of guys who’ll be in the bullpen about whom you can make a convincing closer argument.

For still another thing, some of the guys with definite closer ability are also multi-inning guys, which has its own significant value.

And, lastly, it’s not like David Ross has given up any kind of sure-fire clues as to what the plan is, instead suggesting – as expected – that it might be a mix-and-match situation for a while, until and unless someone emerges, like David Robertson last year.

Of course, you will remember that Robertson, who had extensive closing experience in the past, kinda felt like a favorite from the jump. When everyone was rested in the bullpen, and there was a clear save opportunity coming, without obvious match-up-related limitations, Robertson was getting the 9th. He did very well with it, and thus became “the closer.” So it’s true that no one had the job entering the season, but we kinda had a sense which guy the Cubs might already be leaning toward.

Who is that guy right now? Even if the Cubs don’t have a set closer, who is going to, all else equal, get the first chance to win the job?

At a gut instinct level, it’s felt like the answer there is probably one of Michael Fulmer or Brad Boxberger. Other guys are a little more situational, or are multi-inning guys, or are younger, or are the-maybe-sole-lefty. Boxberger has some closing experience in his career, and Fulmer, a more recent bullpen convert, has definitely showed closer ability (and had a touch of experience there with the Tigers). Throw in the fact that these two are the only true free agent signings in the bullpen, and it’s not hard to imagine it was floated to them that they would have a chance to close if they signed with the Cubs (on what proved to be very modest deals in both cases).

Well, sure enough, Patrick Mooney – in writing about the Cubs’ pitch to Michael Fulmer in free agency – says that, “The Cubs view Fulmer and Brad Boxberger as their primary options for the ninth inning.”

Again, it passes the gut check.

For his part, Fulmer confirmed to The Athletic that closing came up in the Cubs’ pursuit, which started very early in the offseason, but nothing was promised.

“They had conversations about (closing), but I kind of inferred it as me having to win a job,” Fulmer said. “This clubhouse is full of great relievers. I know a lot of them had closing opportunities last year, which is great. A well-rounded bullpen like that — where you can put any guy in any situation — is huge. Whatever Rossy says, whatever he feels — I know he’s big on matchups — we got a great group of guys. Anybody can do it. Would I love to be back there? Absolutely. That’s just kind of the way I’m wired. When the game’s on the line, I want to be pitching.”

Keeping in mind that sometimes your most high-leverage late-inning moment comes in the 7th or 8th inning, my guess is – again, all else equal, with everyone rested and healthy – we’ll see Boxberger used primarily as a late-inning setup guy, and Fulmer will get the first crack at closing. That doesn’t mean he’ll get every save spot, and it doesn’t mean there will necessarily be a ton of runway there. But I get the feeling that the Cubs believe he has the constitution to handle the 9th inning – as un-sabermetric as it sounds, the inning is just different at an emotional and intensity level for pitchers – and I also think the Cubs believe he can be really good at the role.

All that said, I don’t know that I’d go out and draft Fulmer to be your closer for fantasy baseball purposes. There will still probably be a feeling out period in the first couple months of the season. Let’s just hope the Cubs give David Ross plenty of opportunities to use a “closer.”

er, well, I mean, if we’re just HOPING for stuff, I guess I’ll hope that the Cubs give David Ross plenty of opportunities to pitch a guy in the 9th, but no save opportunities, since the Cubs are already leading by a dozen.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

more cubs news

Cade Horton Leaves His I-Cubs Start With the Athletic Trainer (UPDATE)

[ankin_law] When it's the organization's best pitching prospect - one of the best overall in the sport - and he's at Triple-A, knocking on the door of the big leagues, it is especially difficult not to freak out about any...

Pre-Gamin’: Cubs at Brewers (6:40 CT) – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

CUBS LINEUP — Although the Cubs wound up scoring six runs last night, it took then 10 innings to get there, having scored just one run in regulation. They also struck out 14(!) times overall, so I don't think they're...

Jed Hoyer Speaks: Offense, Offense, Offense, Offense

Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer headed up to Milwaukee this week to be with the team and spoke with the media. You can see his comments here, here, here, and here, among other places, and also this...

MLBits: Negro League Stats Join MLB Record Books, From Waiver Claim to Record Holder, More

Major League Baseball has finally decided to acknowledge and incorporate Negro Leagues statistics into its records, more than 77 years after Jackie Robinson made history by breaking baseball’s color barrier. More on that decision in today's MLB Notes. MLB Has...

Father-Daughter Dance? Nah … How About a Game of Catch to ‘Go Cubs Go!’

I do not have a daughter. But if I ever do - and if she wants to do this on her wedding day - I will absolutely be here for it. I mean, how many more times can we listen...

Jordan Wicks’ Latest Rehab Start, the Plan Going Forward, and the Impact on Ben Brown

[ankin_law] Although Ben Brown's incredible performance (and general awesomeness) makes this conversation a tiny bit trickier, I don't want to lose sight of how important it is to get Jordan Wicks back in the Chicago Cubs rotation. Not only did...

Ben Brown’s Incredible Night and Incredible Run of Outings

Ben Brown's Major League debut was not successful in any way that you could tell by looking at the box score: 1.2 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 1 K. But if you were watching that game against the...

Cubs Farm Report | May 29, 2024: Tough Day Overall, Shaw and Hernández Go Yard, More

A trio of losses in the system yesterday, without a ton of top performances. It happens sometimes. That and more in today's Cubs Farm Report. Cubs Farm Report | May 29, 2024 Triple-A Iowa Cubs The Iowa Cubs were defeated...

Negro Leagues Statistics Are Now Integrated Into the MLB Record Books

After announcing a few years ago that MLB would officially recognize the Negro Leagues as a "Major League" and part of Major League Baseball, the league is now incorporating the statistics as part of the official MLB record: https://twitter.com/Russ_Dorsey1/status/1795590429074915725 https://twitter.com/HaroldRKuntz3/status/1795832922458792340...

The Compound Podcast (With Bonus Cubs Players) … LIVE in Chicago!

Seeing as Ian Happ was one of the heroes of last night's desperately needed win over the Milwaukee Brewers — and seeing as how Zack Short can't hurt us anymore — I thought today was a good today to share...

Latest News

Braves vs. Nationals: Free Live Stream, TV Channel, How to Watch

Reynaldo Lopez takes the mound for the Atlanta Braves (31-21) when they host starter Trevor Williams and the Washington Nationals (24-29) at 7:20 PM ET on Thursday.Keep reading to find out all the details on how to watch Atlanta take...

New York Mets vs. Arizona Diamondbacks Series May 30 – June 2: Odds, Starting Pitchers & Predictions

On Thursday, May 30 at 7:10 PM ET, a four-game series featuring the New York Mets and the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks will begin.Mets vs. Diamondbacks Series Info Diamondbacks @ Mets Time: Thursday, May 30 at 7:10 PM ET Mets Starting...

Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers Series May 30 – June 2: Odds, Starting Pitchers & Predictions

The Detroit Tigers will be on the road, opening a four-game series versus the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, May 30 at 7:10 PM ET.Red Sox vs. Tigers Series Info Tigers @ Red Sox Time: Thursday, May 30 at 7:10...

Cade Horton Leaves His I-Cubs Start With the Athletic Trainer (UPDATE)

[ankin_law] When it's the organization's best pitching prospect - one of the best overall in the sport - and he's at Triple-A, knocking on the door of the big leagues, it is especially difficult not to freak out about any...

Winter Classic Tickets Are Going On Sale Soon! Here’s When You Can Get Your Hands On Them

Prior to tonight's Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars Western Conference Final Game 4, we got an announcement on Winter Classic tickets on TNT's pregame show. Tickets for the Blackhawks and Blues matchup on New Year's Eve go on sale two...

The Bears Have *TWO* of the NFL’s Best Offensive Tackles

Following the Chicago Bears offensive line over the years has been a bumpy ride. But perhaps we are starting to see some smooth sailing now that the current administration has made efforts to build out that part of the team....

Mariners vs. Astros: Free Live Stream, TV Channel, How to Watch

Dylan Moore and the Seattle Mariners (30-26) host Kyle Tucker and the Houston Astros (24-31) on Thursday, with first pitch at 4:10 PM ET.See how to watch the Seattle-Houston matchup below.When is Mariners vs. Astros and when does it start?This...

A DJ Moore Extension is Going to be Spicy and Pricy

DJ Moore won't be a free agent until *AFTER* the 2025 season. But it's never too early to explore a potential extension. In case you missed it, the Houston Texans signed wide receiver Nico Collins to an extension. Patrick wrote...

Enjoy Illinois 300 Odds: I’m Berry Excited about this Top 10 at Gateway

The green flag is almost here for the NASCAR Cup Series' Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway! This 300-mile thriller on the challenging 1.25-mile oval promises intense competition and strategic battles. But before the engines roar to life,...

Brewers vs. Cubs: Start Time, Streaming Live, TV Channel, How to Watch

Colin Rea takes the ball for the Milwaukee Brewers (31-23) when they host starting pitcher Jameson Taillon and the Chicago Cubs (28-27) at 1:10 PM ET on Thursday.Find out how to watch the Milwaukee-Chicago matchup below.When is Brewers vs. Cubs...

more cubs news