The Chicago Cubs have signed starting pitcher James McDonald to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, according to Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com. The deal is pending a physical.
McDonald, 29, missed most of the 2013 season with shoulder problems. He made six starts in April for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but posted a 5.76 ERA before hitting the disabled list at the end of the month. He was designated for assignment and released in September.
Despite that lost year, though, McDonald's tenure in Pittsburgh was a positive for both sides. After pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen for the Los Angeles Dodgers early in his career, the right-hander moved to the starting rotation after being acquired by the Pirates in 2010. He rewarded his new team with back-to-back seasons of exactly 171 innings and a 4.21 ERA in 2011 and 2012, and his improved strikeout-to-walk ratio in the latter season hinted at the possibility of improvement as he reached his prime years and grew accustomed to a full season of starting. Indeed, he pitched like an ace in the first half of 2012, going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts with 100 strikeouts in 110 innings; however, he fell apart in the second half of that season and posted a 7.52 ERA the rest of the way.
The Cubs hope that McDonald can continue the progress that he showed in Pittsburgh once his arm is healthy. Chicago also signed Jason Hammel to a one-year contract on Friday, so it now has a wealth of options in its rotation. The unit currently consists of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Carlos Villanueva. The rotation depth means that the team won't have to scramble for a replacement if/when someone gets injured, and it gives Chicago the flexibility to trade Samardzija if the right deal comes along. Samardzija has been the subject of rumors throughout the offseason, and his reluctance to rush into an extension with the Cubs may make them more willing to pull the trigger if they can find a package of prospects that they like.