According to a news station in Wichita, the Cubs have signed free agent pitcher Nate Robertson to a contract, which is necessarily a minor league deal. Robertson, a former pitcher at Wichita State (hence the report coming out of Wichita), didn’t pitch in the bigs in 2011, instead throwing for the Mariners’ AAA affiliate in Tacoma. The Pacific Coast League is a tough place to pitch, but Robertson had an especially rough year, putting up a 7.14 ERA and a 1.854 WHIP in 18 starts.
You may remember Robertson as a long-time Detroit Tigers pitcher (or, if you’re like me, you remember him as “that guy the Tigers keep starting year after year for some inexplicable reason”). Before 2011, it was a steady decline for the 34-year-old lefty. After a solid year in Detroit in 2006, Robertson’s ERA+ dropped to 96 in 2007, and then 71 in 2008, 84 in 2009, and 70 in 2010, split between the Marlins and Phillies.
I’m not one to complain about minor league deals for guys who’ve previously had big league success – there is very little downside. So, I’m not complaining, but … huh? I understand the need for depth and the value of veterans in the minors (that is to say, this could be about improving a minor league team, rather than having any hope that Robertson will contribute at the big league level), but Robertson hasn’t shown an indication that he can be an effective pitcher in four years. Even if the move is about filling space in the higher minors so that the Cubs don’t have to push any younger pitchers, I have a hard time believing there isn’t a minor league veteran type out there – even within the Cubs’ system – who couldn’t fill the same role with just a hair more upside.
Again, I’m not complaining: the Cubs have a whole lot more information on Robertson and on their own situation than I do. Even if this is the worst minor league signing in the history of minor league signings, it isn’t really going to hurt the Cubs organization. Who knows? Maybe the Cubs think they can convert him into a lefty specialist. There could be reasons for the move that are totally obscured to us.
But it’s a head-scratcher.