Why the Cubs are betting on Joe Nathan

Why the Cubs are betting on Joe Nathan

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are trying to catch lightning in a bottle with Joe Nathan, the former All-Star closer still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The Cubs finalized a major-league contract with Nathan on Tuesday, putting him on the 60-day disabled list and potentially adding another weapon to manager Joe Maddon’s late-game arsenal. But that’s only if Nathan can get healthy for the second half of this season – at the age of 41 – after a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow 13 months ago.

The Cubs are placing a small bet on their pitching infrastructure, which has helped a Triple-A pitcher become a Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) and a Rule 5 pick turn into an elite closer (Hector Rondon). Scrap-heap deals (Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, etc.) became part of the formula for a 97-win team last season.

That outweighs the unpredictability with Nathan, who faced only one hitter last season with the Detroit Tigers and could have moved onto the next phase of his life after earning more than $85 million during his career.

“We got a guy with legitimate numbers on the back of his baseball card who is still hungry,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said before a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “With the history that we’ve had the last couple years – being able to get guys and get more out of them – I think it’s a good fit.

“We just got to make sure that we put him in the right position and get him acclimated to see what happens. You never know, we might have another ace in the hole here.”

Nathan earned six All-Star selections between 2004 and 2013 with the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers. He’s pitched for six playoff teams. He ranks eighth all-time with 377 career saves.

This type of low-risk gamble paid off for the Cubs last season when the Seattle Mariners designated Fernando Rodney for assignment in late August. Rodney put up a 0.75 ERA in 14 appearances and used that platform to get $2 million guaranteed and a closer’s job with the San Diego Padres.

It didn’t work out last season with Rafael Soriano, another one of Maddon’s former closers with the Tampa Bay Rays. Soriano made six appearances (6.35 ERA), got released by September and announced his retirement in the middle of spring training.

It’s obvious where president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will be trying to upgrade a team with World Series expectations.

“It’s always about pitching depth,” Maddon said. “It’s always a good strategy.”

Nathan will work out at the team’s Arizona complex and earn the prorated major-league minimum (roughly $350,000). The deal also includes $2.4 million in incentives, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, with a team option for next season that can become a mutual option based on performance.

“You can never have enough (pitching),” Bosio said. “That’s the way we got to be – and every other club’s got to be. When you got a guy sitting with 300 saves out there, I’m not going to say it’s a no-brainer, because I’m sure there were some questions that had to be answered on our end.

“But with Theo and Jed and (all our) scouts, (they) probably saw enough there to say: ‘Hey, it’s worth it.’ I don’t really think it’s a flyer. I think it’s more of a great opportunity for both parties.

“This guy’s presence alone can really help us. And I’m interested to see what he’s got left in the tank.”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.