Former top closer, and now two-time Tommy John recoveree, Joe Nathan is set to join the Chicago Cubs bullpen today in Milwaukee (Cubs.com).
Reports on Nathan’s rehab stint in the minors have been very positive, and now the Cubs will get a chance to see what they have in the 41-year-old. No one is expecting him to come in and be an immediate late-inning option (though he could become that), but if he can pitch reasonably well in the middle innings, he’ll bolster a bullpen at just the right time. It’s possible that, if Nathan pitches well, if Mike Montgomery continues being the guy he was in Seattle (last night’s homer notwithstanding), if Justin Grimm continues to turn things around, and if Carl Edwards Jr. continues being the guy it looks like he’s become, the Cubs might suddenly have an excellent bullpen without having made another trade.
That’s a lot of ifs, of course, and it also doesn’t really get into the fact that, when playoff time arrives, the calculus on what makes for a “good bullpen” changes slightly. That is to say, at that time of year, you’d love to have three or four dominant arms, as opposed to six or seven very good ones. But, then, there aren’t three or four dominant pen arms out there for every playoff team, so you make due. We’ll see if the Cubs pull off an addition before the deadline.
In the interim, it’s Nathan as the next man up. And whom does he replace? You could make an argument for a few arms in the bullpen, including guys with options like Adam Warren (who has struggled in relief, and continued it last night) and Justin Grimm (would have to clear optional assignment waivers, but most players do, because they are revocable). It looks like Grimm is figuring things out, though, and Warren probably would head to AAA only if he were going to stretch back out.
More likely, though, it seems that Clayton Richard might lose his spot. He does have options left, though because of his service time, he has the right to elect free agency rather than accept his option. Of course, he would lose his $2 million contract with the Cubs if he did, and he might not be able to make that up in free agency. It’s also possible that the Cubs would just decide at this point, after having acquired a lefty in Montgomery and seen success from lefty Brian Matusz at AAA, to designate Richard for assignment and remove him from the 40-man roster entirely. We shall see soon.
It’s also always possible, of course, that an injury could pop up – phantom or otherwise – to someone on the roster, clearing way for Nathan.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 39 by my last count, so no spot will have to be opened there to activate Nathan from the 60-day DL.