It’s only May, but it looks like the Chicago Cubs are already thinking about October.
On Tuesday, the team signed relief pitcher Joe Nathan to a major league contract. They immediately placed him on the 60-day DL, as he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Nathan will make the major league minimum, which is $507,500. The contract also includes a $1.5 million team option for 2017.
Nathan, 41, is a six-time All-Star. He last pitched in April of 2015 for the Detroit Tigers when he picked up a save on Opening Day. A few days later, he was placed on the DL with an elbow injury and ended up tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during a rehab start. This meant that he needed to have Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career. Nathan underwent the surgery and has been recovering ever since.
Signing Nathan is definitely a smart move. Although the Cubs are off to a fantastic start and have the best record in all of baseball, their bullpen hasn’t been all that great. It’s the one area that they could improve upon. The Cubs bullpen ERA is 3.34, which is only fourth-best in the National League. Closer Hector Rondon has been very good so far this season, as he’s converted on all seven of his save opportunities and has an ERA of 1.26. Set-up man Pedro Strop hasn’t been as solid. In 19 appearances, he’s 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA. Other members of this bullpen have really struggled. Justin Grimm has an ERA of 4.30, while lefty Travis Wood has his up to 4.09. Other than Rondon, the only other Cubs relief pitcher that has pitched well in 2016 is former New York Yankee Adam Warren. He’s appeared in 15 games and is 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA. Warren was acquired by the Cubs this past offseason in the deal that sent Starlin Castro to the Yankees.
Over the course of his 15-year career, Nathan has saved 377 games. He’s eighth on the all-time MLB saves list. Among active players, only Francisco Rodriguez has more saves. Nathan started his career in San Francisco pitching for the Giants. He then spent seven season with the Minnesota Twins. During his time in Minnesota, he amassed 260 saves while posting an ERA of 2.16. He was an All-Star four times while with the Twins and also finished in the top five in the AL Cy Young Award voting twice. After Minnesota, he spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Texas Rangers. He was an All-Star both years and saved 80 games with Texas. He then signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Tigers In 2014, Nathan had 35 saves, but his ERA was 4.81. He only appeared in one game in 2015 due to his injury.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein obviously thinks that Nathan has something left in him. If he can come back healthy later in the season, he could really help the Cubs bullpen. Nathan might also be able to be a major factor for the team once the playoffs come in October. He has plenty of postseason experience under his belt. If everything goes well, he could possibly serve as the set-up man in Chicago’s bullpen and be the bridge to Hector Rondon. Cubs fans hope this will be the case.