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Xavier Nady finalized his one-year contract with the Cubs on Friday, but he still has some health hurdles to leap before Opening Day.
The Cubs' newest outfielder underwent an all-day physical exam at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Thursday in which doctors paid particular attention to his twice-surgically-repaired right elbow. Nady, 31, is not quite seven months removed from his second Tommy John reconstruction, and Cubs general manager Jim Hendry conceded that there remains a chance that Nady will be limited somewhat defensively at the start of the season.
That didn't stop the club from committing to a deal that, according to The Associated Press, guarantees Nady $3.3 million and has $2.05 million more available in incentives for games played.
Hendry expects Nady to be on the Cubs' Opening Day roster even if he remains under throwing restrictions at that time.
"First and foremost, he's going to be paid to knock in runs," Hendry said in a conference call that included Nady and agent Scott Boras. "We'll see how the throwing program goes in the next two months and if 'X' is limited throwing at the full-throttle level on April 1, we're not going to tax him.
"But we're certainly counting on the bat as he grows into more and more playing time as his arm gets stronger. There's no way to predict when that throwing will be 90 percent or 100 percent, but he's on the path."
Hendry referred to Nady as an "everyday, legitimate five-hole hitter," but Nady would have to displace another Cubs outfielder to land that role. For now, the Cubs projected starters from left to right field are Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome.
A right-field pairing with Fukudome, a left-handed hitter, could be particularly productive. Fukudome has a .798 on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers in his brief tenure in the Major Leagues, 112 points higher than his OPS against lefties, and he has hit 20 of his 21 home runs against righties. Nady has a career .854 OPS against left-handed pitchers, 85 points higher than his mark against righties.
Health, Nady said, will help dictate his role with the Cubs.
"The arm's been doing well," he said. "It's progressing each week, and I'll continue to do my throwing program for the next two and a half months. When the season rolls around, we'll have to take a look at everything to see where I'm at. ...
"I'm coming in to compete for an everyday job, and that's the way my mindset has to be. That's how I've always done it."
Nady is in an exclusive group of position players who have had multiple Tommy John surgeries. Catcher Vance Wilson had the procedure in 2007 and again in '08, but he returned to action with the Royals' Double-A affiliate in '09 and will compete for a job as Kansas City's backup beginning next month. Outfielder Jay Payton, who last week signed a Minor League contract with the Rockies, had two Tommy John surgeries early in his career.
Boras, meanwhile, compared Nady to the Royals' Jose Guillen, who underwent a reconstruction on July 25, 2006, while with the Nationals. Guillen played 153 games in each of the following two seasons.
"Fortunately, we have some precedent here," Boras said. "You have to understand that we are talking about athletes who are in tremendous physical shape. Their healing powers are usually well above the norm. ... Jim and I and 'X' all agreed that we are not going to rush 'X' early on."
Nady made it clear that the elbow does not affect him when swinging a bat.
He was last healthy in 2008, a season split between the Pirates and Yankees in which he batted .305 with 37 doubles, 25 home runs and 97 RBIs in 148 games, posting a .357 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage. He set career highs that season for runs (76), hits (169), doubles, homers, RBIs and walks (39).
In all, he's played parts of eight Major League seasons with the Padres, Mets, Pirates and Yankees and has appeared at all three outfield positions. Nady has played 408 games in right field, 100 in left and 45 in center, and has also seen action at first base (82 games) and third base (three games).
He's a career .304 hitter (31-for-102) in 28 games at Wrigley Field.
"I feel like I've dealt with some nagging injuries here and there and have obviously had a decent time off with this elbow, but I feel like my best years are in front of me," Nady said. "I feel like I've improved each year and have a better understanding of what I need to do -- whether that's in the [batter's] box or in the field -- to be a better player. I feel like when I am healthy, I'm a very productive player."
Nady is the first player in Cubs history to have his first name begin with the letter X. His wife, Meredith, and their son, Xavier IV, live in San Diego.
Hendry said the Nady deal likely "rounds out our acquisitions for the winter."