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Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs agreed to terms with outfielder Xavier Nady on a one-year, $3.3 million deal, which also offers some $2 million in incentives for games played. Nady, 31, essentially did not play last year after elbow problems led to his second Tommy John surgery. Now fully-recovered, the Cubs hope Nady can be a good platoon-mate for Kosuke Fukudome in right field, and can back-up Alfonso Soriano in left field and Derrek Lee at first base. Nady is expected to take his physical later this week, and because of the two Tommy John surgeries, it is less perfunctory than others might be.

In his last full season – the 2008 season, split between the Pirates and the Yankees – Nady was excellent: .305/.357/.510, with 25 homers, 97 RBI, and 37 doubles. Had Nady put up those numbers last year for the Cubs, he would have been the best outfielder, and second best hitter on the entire team. His career line is a very solid .280/.335/.458. The guy can hit.

If Nady starts putting up those 2008 kind of numbers, it will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup. However, expecting a return to top numbers is probably a bit ambitious – but not for the reason you might think.

You can feel free to be less concerned about any lingering elbow issues, which should have a minimal effect on Nady at the plate. Instead, be more concerned with the fact that he has not faced Major League pitching in over a year. Hopefully he’s completely healthy in Spring Training, and can take that time to see a whole lot of pitches.

In the field, of course, Nady’s elbow will be something of a concern. Positional players who return from Tommy John surgery are less impacted than pitchers, but usually there is a visible impact. Prior to this second surgery – the first was almost ten years ago – Nady was considered an average defender in the corner outfield spots, and a below average defender in center field, where he hasn’t played in a few years. He hasn’t played at first base much in the past few years, either, but presumably his defense there is nothing special.

In the end, if healthy, Xavier Nady makes this Chicago Cubs team much better. In fact, he probably makes the team better than almost any other bench signing could have. But the “if healthy,” as it is with any player, is a huge caveat here. There is reason for confidence here, however. Given the plethora of options for the Cubs – Jonny Gomes, Jermaine Dye, Reed Johnson, Rocco Baldelli – the team would not have given Nady such a relatively large guaranteed commitment if they weren’t confident about his health.

One last interesting tidbit: Nady will make more this year than the free agent “starting” outfielder the Cubs signed. Marlon Byrd’s 2010 salary is just $3 million, compared to Nady’s $3.3 million. Of course, Byrd’s three-year deal was heavily backloaded, and averages $5 million per year. Then again, if Nady hits his performance bonuses, he’ll eclipse that number, too.

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