Primarily a center fielder, Gathright has played five seasons in the majors with Tampa Bay and Kansas City, batting .263 in 399 games.
The Cubs have been looking to improve their left-handed hitting. Gathright also gives them speed. He stole 21 bases in 25 chances last season for the Royals and had 15 bunt hits while batting .254.
"He makes a lot of sense. He can play all three outfield spots. Our people think he's going to be better even in the National League because of double switches and other opportunities to play in a variety of roles," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday.
Gathright played early in his career under Lou Piniella when the current Cubs manager was managing Tampa Bay.
"Obviously his at-bats will be dictated by Lou and how he's swinging the bat. How many starts he gets will be up to him and he fits in with the rest of the club," Hendry said, adding he wasn't concerned by a shoulder injury that sent Gathright to the DL last year.
"He's just a world class speed guy who can do lot of things for us that we felt like was important. It's no secret Lou likes to have people like this in the organization and certainly if he's not starting, he's a tremendous piece on the bench every day."
The signing of Gathright could mean more time in the minors for Felix Pie, a similar speed player who was once projected as a star but has struggled with consistency. The Cubs did not re-sign free agent Jim Edmonds and they have also Reed Johnson to play center. And they could move right fielder Kosuke Fukudome to that spot, if they can acquire another left-handed bat like free agent outfielder Milton Bradley.
Hendry is still working on improving the team since returning from the winter meetings in Las Vegas. The Cubs have won back-to-back NL Central titles, only to be swept out of the playoffs in the first round both years.
"We're lucky we're not in an area, in a year where we need a lot of volume, so hopefully we just come up with the right couple of pieces to make it better," Hendry said.
Gathright was originally selected by Tampa Bay in the 32nd round of the 2001 amateur draft and broke into the majors in 2004 at the age of 23. He was traded to the Royals in June 2006.