Bauman: Cubs' signing of Nady can't hurt
Free-agent outfielder can provide depth, platoon with Fukudome
This is not the kind of signing of a free agent outfielder that is going to move media mountains as in the cases of Jason Bay and Matt Holliday.
But that doesn't mean that it isn't an extremely positive move. The Chicago Cubs' signing of free-agent outfielder Xavier Nady is solidly in the category of "this can't possibly hurt."
It is true that Nady has had two Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgeries. But he's not trying to make his living as a starting pitcher. When he was last healthy, in 2008, his offensive numbers were impressive. Pending the results of a physical exam, the Cubs get him for a reasonable price; a reported $3.3 million, plus $2 million in incentives based on games played.
Without a ton of hype, this acquisition could directly address one of the Cubs' primary shortcomings in 2009. If you say that the offensive production from the Cubs outfield was disappointing, insufficient, inadequate or worse, you risk only understatement.
Alfonso Soriano, paid to be an impact player, was much less than that. He was frequently nicked up, but what you might be seeing here is what happens when a player who is exceptional because he has a unique blend of speed and power, loses the speed half of the equation.
Kosuke Fukudome is a fundamentally solid player and an admirably selective hitter. But if he is now penciled in as the starting right fielder, he is not the classic run-producer you would hope for as a corner outfielder. Plus, there was his .164 average against left-handed pitchers last season.
Milton Bradley didn't hit as well as expected, but that was merely the tip of the iceberg when it came to problems that he posed. He was unhappy, which wasn't a new state of mind for him. But the very public nature of his unhappiness created a ripple effect of ill will through the rest of the team, the management, Wrigley Field, a large portion of Chicago, and significant sections of the upper Midwest. The Cubs managed to trade him to Seattle. What they got in return was secondary to the fact that Bradley would no longer be a Cub.
These were not all of the reasons why the Cubs went from having the National League's best record with 97 victories in 2008 to being an also-ran with 83 wins in '09. But they were parts of the problem. One outfielder was far below expectations, another was OK unless he had to face left-handed pitchers, and the third was voted most likely to cause trouble.
Beyond jettisoning Bradley this winter, the Cubs have added Marlon Byrd to play center. Byrd is not a classic center fielder, but he did have the best power numbers of his career in 2009. And he is widely known as a solid citizen and a good teammate.
So the overall personnel trade-off was Bradley for Byrd. Bradley may have the best year of his life for the Mariners and the Cubs could still consider themselves ahead of the game. But more offensive production is still needed from the outfield and that is why Nady arrives.
Nady, a right-handed hitter, looks like a logical fit in a right-field platoon with Fukudome. Nady once had a fine arm and the issue here would be how much of that ability he can recover after the second Tommy John surgery.
Nady also provides reliable depth in left, which is particularly important if Soriano is going to miss considerable time as he did the last two seasons.
And, since the Bradley era, short as it was, brought personal characteristics to the forefront in any discussion of a Cubs outfielder, Nady is also covered in that category. For instance, Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who managed Nady with the Pirates, routinely spoke highly of Nady's character and conduct, without being asked. A character reference from Tracy is its own kind of gold.
Someone is sure to look at the acquisition of Nady and say: "Again, this makes the Cubs too right-handed." Well, that was one of the reasons they acquired Bradley, a switch-hitter. The Cubs were also considered to be "too right-handed" when they won 97 games in 2008.
Fans of Reed Johnson and/or Sam Fuld may not be overjoyed with the Nady signing, but manager Lou Piniella has made clear his preference for one more RBI guy in the outfield mix. Xavier Nady has demonstrated that he can produce runs and that he is a more than capable Major League outfielder. If his right elbow holds up, the Cubs have improved themselves in an area that definitely required improvement.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.