Cubs Agree to MLB Deal with Joe Nathan, Hope for Second Half Return

While the eyes of the baseball world were focused on the fate of a reclamation project involving a former top-flight pitcher, the Cubs were working toward one of their own. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum captured headlines on Monday when he signed with the Angels Monday after several disappointing seasons in San Francisco. On Tuesday, it was announced that the Cubs had reached a deal with another once-dominant pitcher.

As reported by Gordon Wittenmyer, Joe Nathan agreed to sign with the team for the major-league minimum (pro-rated based on the timing of the deal) plus performance bonuses.

Nathan averaged 40 saves in each of his last nine full seasons, is a six-time All-Star, and was once one of the most feared closers in the game. Given the fickle nature of bullpens, you can never have too many arms stockpiled up, particularly when those arms come at only a monetary cost. So the Cubs didn’t have to trade anyone and they have a guy who’s proven in high-leverage situations. Sounds perfect, right?

Well, perfect might be stretching it a bit. Nathan is 41 years old and is currently recovering from his second Tommy John surgery in the last six years. Either of those facts alone would be enough to question a player’s ability. The combo is kinda scary. Then again, it’s such a low-risk deal that any fear over whether he can recover his old form should be largely mitigated by the circumstances and the fact that the Cubs aren’t counting on him to be an integral piece.

Though he signed a major-league deal, Nathan’s recovery from elbow reconstruction means that he has been placed on the 60-day DL and won’t be taking up a roster spot. He’s expected to report to Mesa to continue his rehab and could be ready to contribute by July or August. That’s the hope anyway. If he’s indeed able to return to full health, a spot will open up via trade or demotion.

I don’t see this as the type of move that will determine the course of the Cubs’ season in any significant way, but it could certainly pay dividends. History tells us that this front office is willing to roll the dice on former stud relievers who’ve fallen on hard times for one reason or another. While the results they’ve gotten from guys like Rafael Soriano, Jason Motte, and Fernando Rodney have varied, it’s hard to fault them for wanting to see what Nathan can do.

We’ve already been looking forward to the next crop of young kids, but now it’ll be equally interesting to see whether this old man can get a cup of joe with the Cubs.

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