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12/16/08 3:01 PM EST

Cubs add speed, ink Gathright to deal

Veteran lefty hitter signs one-year contract as backup outfielder

CHICAGO -- The Cubs signed a left-handed-hitting outfielder on Tuesday, but it's probably not who you expected.

The Cubs picked up some speed when they signed outfielder Joey Gathright to a one-year, $800,000 contract.

Gathright is not the big-bopper type outfielder Cubs manager Lou Piniella wanted for the middle of the order, but someone who will be handy during double switches, pinch-running, pinch-hitting and able to play all three outfield positions.

"We set out to find a real speed guy for the club and a left-hand hitter and he makes a lot of sense," said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who looked at players like Gathright during the Rule 5 Draft last week. None had the experience Gathright has.

He was non-tendered by the Kansas City Royals on Friday after batting .254 in 105 games this past season with no homers and 22 RBIs. Piniella knows him well. Gathright played for him in Tampa Bay and stole 20 bases in 2005. He swiped 22 total in 2006 with the Rays and Royals, but this season was bothered by a bone bruise in his right shoulder.

"He's a world-class speed guy who can do a lot of things for us," Hendry said. "If he's not starting, he's a tremendous piece on the bench every day."

Gathright has 78 stolen bases in 105 attempts in his career, good for a 74 percent success rate. He has primarily seen action in center field.

What the move means for Felix Pie remains to be seen. Pie is out of options, and also is a left-handed-hitting outfielder with speed. However, he has not been able to hit well at the big league level.

"We're a long way from Opening Day," Hendry said. "A lot of things can happen."

Hendry said he is still talking to some other left-handed-hitting outfielders and also in discussions with teams regarding possible trades. One free agent who is available and better suited for the middle of the lineup is switch-hitter Milton Bradley, who was believed to be seeking a multiyear deal.

"We feel confident we'll end up with a good left-hand hitter," Hendry said. "There's still a lot of things to do."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.