The Chicago Cubs reached an agreement Tuesday with veteran relief pitcher Joe Nathan on a major league contract for the rest of the 2016 season.

The Cubs officially announced the signing and confirmed Nathan would be placed on the 60-day disabled list as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery performed in April 2015. Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported the deal includes a team option for 2017 that can turn into a mutual option based on performance. Heyman added Nathan can make up to $2.4 million in incentives this season and up to $4.6 million next season. 

It’s a low-risk addition for Chicago. Nathan, who was once among the league’s most dominant closers, owns a 2.89 ERA with 967 strikeouts in 917 career innings. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports he could return to action by the start of July.

The 41-year-old reliever enjoyed most of his success with the Minnesota Twins, where he registered 260 saves across seven seasons. He’s also made stops with the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers during a career that began in 1999.

What he’s going to eventually provide to the Cubs is a mystery, though. He struggled for the Tigers in 2014, posting a 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 62 games and making just a single appearance last season before suffering the season-ending elbow injury.

Still, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports thinks it’s a worthwhile chance to take:

Ultimately, the Cubs will probably work Nathan into the bullpen mix with some low-leverage innings once he’s ready. They have been blowing teams out on a regular basis, as their league-best run differential illustrates, so there have been plenty of those opportunities to go around.

Should he showcase some vintage form in that role, there’s a chance he could work his way into the seventh-inning spot in front of Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop. While those two relievers have been reliable for Chicago, the bullpen as a whole ranks a middling 13th in ERA, per ESPN.

A healthy, rejuvenated Nathan could certainly help further bridge that gap between the starters and the back end of the bullpen, but for now, there are obvious question marks about whether he’s still capable of that high-end production at this stage of his career.


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