The Chicago Cubs have reportedly signed right-handed pitcher Todd Wellemeyer to a minor league contract worth $800,000 with another $400,000 in incentives. For an organization doggedly insisting that it's emphasizing youth and player development, throwing more cash at an aging (Wellemeyer is 32) pitcher who has never had much success at the major league level may seem silly.
What's worse, Todd is no stranger to Cubs fans. The North Siders drafted him in the fourth round of the 2000 amateur draft, developed him and awarded him his MLB debut on May 15, 2003. From there, it was mostly a struggle for Ol' "Shoulders." Wellemeyer was a hit or miss reliever with too much emphasis on the latter during the 2003, 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Since then, he's played for the Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and just last season for the San Francisco Giants. (He was not on the Giants playoff roster.) Only the Cardinals sorcerer-like pitching coach Dave Duncan seemed to be able to sway Wellemeyer from mediocrity, temporarily transforming him into a moderately respectable starting pitcher in 2008. (Figures.)
Well, now he's back, presumably to compete for a middle relief spot against younger options such as Justin Berg and Casey Coleman. But don't panic: Wellemeyer's contract is non-guaranteed. So that money is far from spent and may very well not be. This is likely another "Sure, why not," signing by Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who's always been fairly amicable about inviting back former players for a spring training go-round. Outfielder Reed Johnson is back on a similar deal.
The only downside to this is Wellemeyer could swipe a few spring-training innings away from younger pitchers trying to get a leg up in the Cubs organization. But there are plenty of such innings to around -- especially late in games ... when no one is paying attention ... and even play-by-play man Pat Hughes doesn't know who's on the field. In short, this signing is all about depth. Something the Cubs certainly don't lack in the pitching department this year. Welcome back, Shoulders.