Could Wood Return to the Cubs? UPDATED
One of last season's best stories was the resurrection of erstwhile ace Kerry Wood's career as an overpowering closer in Chicago. Finally, Wood seemed to find a role he could stay (relatively) healthy in, and he had a significant impact, shutting the door late in games as the Cubs avoided the late-inning meltdowns that so often have served as a hallmark of the franchise.
Well, as Tracee pointed out in the Chicago Tribune this morning (and a variety of other sources reported after a conference call last night), everyone on the North Side of the Windy City is busy writing Wood's eulogy. This quote from Cubs GM Jim Hendry alone seems to write Wood off as being a former Cub:
"I think we all feel that Kerry is certainly deserving of a three- or four-year contract," Hendry said. "He's done everything this organization has asked for the last 14 years, been a warrior the last couple of years. He's come back and health-wise stood the test of time, taken the ball every day we needed, and had no hang-ups, except for (missing one month with a blister injury).
"We're just in a situation, as Kerry fully understands, that that length of deal, for the kind of salary he'd command right now, is not our first priority. We certainly have to finish our rotation, we have offensive situations to address, and by having the prominence that (Carlos) Marmol now brings to the table, it certainly doesn't come before the other needs we have. We felt it was time Kerry goes out and does what's best for him and his family, and gets a huge multi-year deal if possible."
Now, that certainly sounds like Hendry throwing dirt on the grave of one of his favorite players. But Hendry has a long, close relationship with Wood, and you can't discount the possibility that Wood might be the one player who would take a significant cut in terms of years or dollars to stay in Illinois.
Hendry cited a 4-year, $50-million deal as a likely benchmark for Wood, but is he really likely to get that kind of an offer? Considering the fact that Wood seems likely to be the third option (at best) behind both Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes. K-Rod isn't getting the financial full-press he and his agent Paul Kinzer were anticipating -- Kinzer is already publicly back-tracking from the 5-year, $75-million deal he was angling for -- and while Fuentes is getting plenty of attention from the Mets and a handful of other suitors, finding a crop of teams willing to overpay for late-inning relievers, particularly ones with a long history of health problems like Wood, seems to be much more scarce than in years past. After all, that was clearly the impetus behind the Cubs adding Kevin Gregg yesterday in the first place.
UPDATE: Well, it didn't take long for Wood to weigh in on his departure, and he's understandably crushed about leaving the Cubs. He also sounds about as resigned to officially being gone as one can imagine, saying that he and the team even discussed a one-year contract at one point. So much for the earlier theory I put out there, huh? That being said, if Wood is still on the market in mid-to-late January, don't people think the Cubs would start ti re-think their decision to let him walk away and make another run at him at a discounted price? After all, if they couldn't agree on a one-year deal because of dollar constraints, and those dollars might not be there from another team, couldn't Wood and the Cubs close the gap?
It's just one more free agent situation that bears watching as the silly season gets rolling in earnest.
So who might in the market for Wood? Well, assuming K-Rod and Fuentes land in other destinations, the Angels and Rangers could both be fits. Then again, the Angels already have multiple power arms at the back of the bullpen and a young reliever they feel could be the next K-Rod in house. Thus, Anaheim is probably out. Ken Rosenthal has been the pusher behind "Wood to Texas" rumors because the move does make a ton of sense: Wood is from a Dallas suburb (Irving) and has given up only two home runs the past two seasons, which helps in the smaller confines of the Ballpark at Arlington. Unfortunately for Wood, just like the Angels, the Rangers seem to be in the mix for newly-acquired Rockies reliever Huston Street, who we already know won't be closing in Colorado and thus is likely in transition between locations. Street also has deep Texas connections -- he starred on a University of Texas team that won the College World Series and his father is a legendary Longhorns quarterback -- so Wood doesn't even have a sentimentality edge on Street for Rangers fans.
The more you look at the market, the more it makes you wonder just where Wood might get 4-years and anywhere near $50-million. Personally, I don't think it'll happen, which is precisely why you can't rule out a return to the Cubs. Even after adding Gregg, wouldn't the Cubs offer Wood a 2-year, $24-million contract, or something in that range? You'd have to think so, just based on his proven results as a closer at Wrigley Field.
At the end of the day, that might as good -- or nearly as good -- as what Wood finds out on the market. Early eulogies aside, don't bury Kerry's blue pinstripes yet, he might just be back in them come spring training.
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