As they look for ways to improve a bullpen long perceived to be a team weakness, the Cubs are turning to an old strategy. And I do mean old. Not only has the Theo Epstein regime made a habit of betting on injured and reclaimed pitchers, but their next addition is a little long in the tooth.
Joe Maddon announced Saturday that the Cubs would be adding 41-year-old Joe Nathan to the roster prior to Sunday’s game in Milwaukee. Nathan has made a few minor-league rehab appearances while coming back from his second Tommy John surgery and looks to be pitching pretty well. Maybe not elite-closer level, but good enough to be part of a serious contender.
“Velocity is solid and the break has gotten better on the breaking ball,” Maddon told media members on Saturday. “Sounds like he’s ready to rock and roll.”
Works for me. While he’s no longer the same guy who racked up 377 saves, the Cubs would be happy to have even a reasonable facsimile of the pitcher who put up a 2.14 ERA (2.56 FIP) and 0.96 WHIP with 10.82 K/9 (4.21 K/BB) from 2004-13.
Nathan dropped off markedly with the Tigers in 2014, though he still racked up 35 saves in spite of a 4.81 ERA (3.94 FIP). He’s only thrown one-third of an inning in the majors since as the result of a second UCL tear, so there’s likely going to be a little rust yet to knock off. And neither aging pitchers nor two-time TJS recipients inspire a great deal of confidence on their own, let alone when they’re the same person.
But, as with all moves they make, there’s really nothing to do but trust the front office on this one. Besides, it’s a low-cost move in terms of both financial and competitive ramifications. Joe knows he’s ready to rock ‘n roll and I like it.
As of post time, no corresponding moves had really even been theorized, but I’m sure we’ll know more once Saturday’s game concludes. I’m also sure you’ve got some good guesses as to who will lose a spot to make way for Nathan.
Update: The Cubs have optioned Adam Warren to AAA Iowa to make room for Nathan. I have to be honest, I had fully expected to be typing Clayton Richard’s name there, particularly after another uninspired appearance Saturday. Then again, Warren hasn’t exactly set the world on fire outside of a good spot start prior to the break. Fingers crossed, Nathan’s first appearance will be slightly better than Mike Montgomery’s.