The Chicago Cubs may have added yet another arm to the veteran depth pile they’re accumulating in the high minors.

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.

  • al

    It is an el-nothing move.

  • Dougy D

    “The inexplicable reason?”

    He throws the ball with his left hand. I imagine that it has more to do with that than him actually being good. I think the lefty-lefty match up is overrated, depending on the match up, of course (see Baker).

    • Andrew

      Getting lefty lefty and righty righty matchups is far from overrated. If you look at most players splits, you can very easily tell that most players do better against the oppositely armed pitcher. It also makes sense if youve ever played a little. if youre a lefty you see the ball a lot sooner and easier coming out of a righty’s hand than a lefty. The move is probably just irrelevant, maybe hes got a buddy in the cubs FO that wants to give him a job.

      • Brian Myers

        It was a few years ago, but I read the average difference is 30 points on the BA. That’s not each way, but if your average was .285 with a favorable matchup it would be .300 and with an unfavorable one it’s .270. With 500 AB’s that’s a difference of 15 hits a year and can equalize a .250 hitter with a .280 hitter (assuming the “typical” hitter).

        You are correct, it’s not overrated. It’s a (very roughly figured) difference of perhaps 1.2 hits a game (best/worst case). Or, stated differently, its likely the difference of a couple runs a week. On an individual basis (with typical hitters) it’s not a huge difference, but it’s still playing the percentages. But some hitters DO hit much better against one or the other, in those cases the matchup differences are magnified and matter more.

  • Cliffy

    Bosio said on Levine’s radio show a week ago that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Cubs add pitching before the season started. This is not what I had envisioned. Thought it could be someone squeezed off a roster at end of spring training who’s out of options.


  • Mike Foster

    Brett, Theo called me about this one, I said OK, but he made me promise not to tell you….

    • Brett

      Fine, fine. If it got your sign-off.

  • dick

    The Cubs are going younger and more athletic every day….

  • Webb

    I’m guessing this is a precursor to the Boston compensation. If Boston is seeking “a contributor in the major leagues” the most likely candidate will come from AAA. Boston will also most likely select a pitcher from whatever list the commissioner or Cubs have made available to them. Perhaps Scott Maine or Marcos Mateo will be the final settlement.

    • Brett

      Definitely a possibility. But, keep in mind, Edes said Boston is looking for a prospect who could eventually be a contributor in the bigs (i.e., not a total fringe, nothing prospect). They’re not necessarily looking for someone to contribute right away.

    • Bric

      I’m thinking Dolis.

  • ferrets_bueller

    Your description of him is exactly what I think of when i hear his name, lol. The decisions that that Tigers team made, for about half a decade, were just….what?

  • bluekoolaidaholic

    I think you are right Brett. He probably is just needed to provide some depth at the AAA level to give some youngsters a chance to mature without being forced up into difficult pitching beyond their learning curve.
    From his point of view, he probably makes more money this way than pumping gas or selling insurance back in Wichita.
    At his age, it’s probably a little late for him to learn much from Boz or get the “Cubs Way” enough to become great again. If nothing else, he can help out in all those split squad games in Arizona.

  • miggy80

    This maybe a stretch but it may have some thing to do with having a certin level of power come the trading deadline. Not this one signing alone but the total pitching depth they have added.

  • DannyBallgame

    I do like the idea of having a mass of pitching at the minor league level. Keep the obscure signing coming!

  • die hard

    your present apology is accepted for complaining and also accepted in advance for complaining about all of us complaining in the past and about this and other such moves that come under the category of “make work”…to an outsider appears FO is trying to justify pay by doing something which they must feel is better than nothing…..

    • ogyu

      Also accepted in advance is your apology for wasting the preceding ten seconds of my life.

  • Ryan

    I wonder if they will try him as a reliever

  • truebluecubbie

    *facepalm* at this move. Seems pretty pointless to me.

  • Norm

    This move is irrelevant. No reason to cheer or jeer.

  • Deez

    I like the approach. It give us depth & maybe oh just maybe, we’ll catch lightning in a bottle from one of these guys who could be a commodity during the trade deadline.

  • J.B. House

    This is off the subject but we are going to our first spring training game this year Rangers vs Cubs at Mesa. The Cubs are playing split squad that day. As a rule do the veterans tend to stay home and the youngsters travel or is it pretty random who goes and who stays.

  • Ryan

    Kind depends on when the game is on the calendar

  • ty

    J.B. Split squad has a rule that five starters must travel on the road. The split squad road team will be managed by Pat Listach or sometimes a pitching coach–Rothschild used to do this. The manager will stay home and the veteran pitcher will stay home so regardless you will see a good home. Veterans are pulled by fifth inning so essentially S.T. games become triple A and are often decided by prospects in the later innings. Games can end in a tie unless both managers agree as if they need more work for pitchers. If your seats are in the sun you can usually move by the sixth inning as sunburn is a real issue even now. Enjoy!

  • J.B. House

    Thanks! We can’t wait!