I'm not at home right now and don't really have time to discuss things going on in the Cubs world. So, while we've been talking about it for a while in the SB, I thought I'd just open a thread in which you could post your comments about the Kerry Wood departure.
I'll just say this - it's a real bummer for a bunch of reasons, but it's hardly the end of the world. In a sport where people come and go constantly, it's just a fact of life. Got comments? Post 'em if you've got 'em.
Rob checking in:
What we have here is yet another casaulty of the Free-Agent Era. (using my old man voice) Back when I was a youngun, star players were basically indentured servants to their club. If someone as popular, yet brittle, as Woody was around, the club would low-ball him, and he'd have no choice but to accept the Cubs' contract and spend the rest of his days with us. Sooner or later he'd move down the ladder until eventually he was the last man out of the bullpen, to be trotted out in blow-outs or on Ladies' Day.
Of course, if he wasn't making millions every year, he'd probably have hung it up three years ago, when his arm wasn't coming around, and nobody could figure out the problem. Then we wouldn't have him around, anyhow.
I always felt he was the heart and soul of the team, and I figured if and when the day would come when he left, I would seriously consider turning in the Die-Hard card and following cricket or tennis or some shit like that. However, with us being so close to a champion, and with our ability to pick up a Kevin Gregg or whatever his name is for Chump Change, Wood is an unnecessary luxury that we really didn't need.
Sooner or later, I will have digested this well enough to give the man the tribute he deserves, probably when he signs elsewhere. Right now, I'm just like the rest of you, waiting for my Peavy/Dempster/Roberts fix.
I had just turned 13 the winter when Andre Dawson left Chicago, and his departure was beyond befuddling - it was astonishing. It was absurd.
He was a man who helped define an era of Cubs baseball. He came to Chicago with a breaking body and a blank check, telling then-GM Dallas Green to fill out whatever he thought was appropriate. He then proceeded to earn the nickname "Awesome," hitting 49 homeruns and driving in 137 RBI in both his first year as a Cub and my first year as a fan. He became the MVP of the entire National League while playing for a last place ball team.
It's hard to describe how closely I aligned myself with his career. I batted like him. I played the outfield like him. If I ever had achy knees, I'd think "just like Andre!" as if that was something to be excited or happy about. I collected his baseball cards the way that magpies collect objects that shine.
Andre Dawson wasn't just a part of my childhood experience following the Cubs, he defined it. He was A Cub, capital A, capital C, tied and true through and through. In 1992, I was coping with my third year of having lived away from home, learning of the Cubs scores only because of Baseball Weekly, and I was certainly aware that, at the age of 37, maybe the man with the bad knees - if they could even be called knees anymore - was winding down. He batted .277, up from his previous year's performance, but his homerun and RBI totals were down - he only hit 22 and drove in 90. But he was also only one homerun away from the 400th of his career. How cool would it have been for Dawson to reach that milestone in a Cubs uniform on a cold day in April? How awesome would it have been?
But it didn't happen, Larry Himes chased him out of town for the chance to elevate the selfish-but-talented Sammy Sosa, and I learned for the first time in my life that my favorite player will not always retire as a member of my favorite team.
Surely you know by where I'm going with this.
Jim Hendry announced today that the Cubs were cutting ties with Kerry Wood. Hendry is quoted saying "I think we all feel that Kerry is certainly deserving of a three- or four-year contract. He’s done everything this organization has asked for the last 14 years, been a warrior the last couple of years... 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."
You could probably take everything I wrote about Dawson and say the same thing about Wood. Just switch "knees" with "shoulder and elbow," and you might see a parallel. In some ways, I think it's easier - I was especially attached to Dawson because he'd essentially been there from the first day that I was a Cub fan. In some ways, it's harder - Wood was pretty much born a Cub. He's been pitching with a C on his hat since before he stopped growing. If we've had conversations about players we thought would retire as Cubs, Wood surely would have appeared at the top of any lists made.
But I guess that this is a life lesson. We aren't children forever. Sooner or later, we grow up and experience loss. We also experience gains, discoveries, and more. Losing Kerry Wood is certainly disappointing, maybe even heart-breakingly so. But in baseball, like in life, it's bound to happen eventually, the machine keeps moving, and there will always be other players out there who will grab our imagination the way that Wood did more than a decade ago.
It's like with Andre Dawson. He's been gone from Chicago for 16 years. He's now a man in his 50's, more than a decade removed from his last exploit, his final heroic play. Even the selfish bastard who replaced him is gone. This is life, and let it be a reminder to enjoy it more while we have it. So, I guess the moral of the story is this: the next time the Cubs leave you seething with disappointment, maybe leave a little extra room for appreciation. Carlos Zambrano will not always be here. Aramis Ramirez will be gone long before most of us are. Geovany Soto, the Rookie of the Year, will be gone in the blink of an eye.
Appreciate. Otherwise the Cubs are just a bunch of faceless guys in pyjamas, and who wants to watch that, even if they win?
I'm picturing a visual right now of a herd of GM's storming toward a payphone, hefting the woman operating the phone over and behind their heads and fighting each other to determine who gets to call up Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster first. Or they could just use their cell phones.
The Tribune is reporting that tomorrow is The Deadline! where, should a pending free agent not be re-signed, he can receive offers from other teams.
The Cubs don't seem too concerned about The Deadline!, but I'm sure there are some loyal Cub fans out there who worry like me that Kerry Wood will get swept off his feet by some Johnny Come Latelys who'll throw money and years at him.
However, I'll leave you with this thought. Jim Hendry has yet to lose a talented player he's wanted to keep. Maybe that thought will keep you warm, although I'm inclined to feel nervous still because, who knows, maybe he doesn't want Wood or Dempster. And quite frankly, for the money he's asking for, maybe not wanting Dempster is for the best.
It's getting closer to the point where Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood should start receiving outlandish and ridiculous contract offers from teams desperate for a starter and closer. Meanwhile, Jim Hendry's focus remains on Jake Peavy, which Paul Sullivan reports could affect whether or not the two fan favorites return to Chicago next season.
Considering how up-in-the-air the bullpen is, and especially considering how much Kerry Wood means to the team and their fans, I think that Hendry re-signing Wood is a no-brainer. However, Dempster obviously becomes a low-priority so long as Peavy may accept a trade to Chicago.
Now, something that Sully reflects on in his piece is this: The question Dempster must ask himself is: Why should I take a hometown discount when the team is apparently willing to spend more money on Peavy?
Obviously I can't get into the mind of Clownsevelt, but I can tell you how I would feel were I in his position. Dempster appears to like Chicago, and he is apparently willing to take a discount to remain a Cub. While he hasn't expressed a willingness to take a paycut to improve the talent of the team - ala Sutcliffe in '87, who was willing to take a six figure cut in pay if it meant signing Andre Dawson - I can't believe that Dempster would oppose the acquisition of an uber-talented starting pitcher like Peavy, as it improves the team's chances of winning next season, with one exception.
If Peavy comes, it is likely that Dempster goes. That's the issue at hand. But what if Hendry was able to sign Peavy, and re-sign Dempster? If he's able to find a taker for Marquis, it's a wash - Peavy's contract pays only $500k more next season than the contract of the Marquis de Suck.
It's also likely that Hendry should have the money to pay Kerry Wood what he's worth. In fact, Hendry certainly has the money for Dempster, too. I don't think the dollar figures are the issues, I think the years desired are what is holding things up. Dempster certainly wants minimally a 4-year deal - that's a year too many, and Wood probably wants minimally a 3-year-deal, which Hendry might be reluctant to offer.
I realize that the money train isn't unlimited, the Cubs have a budget, and we all want to see them upgrade the offense, but comparably there's no reason they can't do both. It's just a matter of Hendry needing to go bargain hunting for an outfielder if he pulls off a Supra Upgrade of his rotation. Regardless, it remains a cunundrum, but it is one with a potentially very happy outcome. Let's just hope that Hendry doesn't try to grab too much and come away with nothing at all.
Free Agency is the devil. Three decades ago, one could safely assume that your favorite player would stay with his team from Year One to his retirement. There are aspects of that which are really cool, because entire generations of baseball fans grew up cheering for the same player at the age of 20 as they did back when they were 7.
These days, players bounce around teams like a pinball. They are rarely loyal, almost never obligated, and they can perhaps best be characterized as being mercenaries. Point of fact, there are very few veterans in their early-to-mid 30's who remain with the team that drafted them. Guys like Jason Varitek, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera are rare and, not coincidentally, ridiculously well-compensated by their teams. Funny thing is, the Cubs have a guy like that. His name is Kerry Wood.
Wood has now been a part of the Cubs organization for more than 13 years. He has seen highs and lows - he's suffered through elbow and shoulder injuries, he's become the toast of the town, he's seen multiple 90+ loss teams, and he's reached the playoffs in a Cubs uniform more than any other player in the organization's history. He's also displayed unusual loyalty - since his arm injuries really became the story of his career, Wood has made compromises to stay a Cub. He's accepted one-year deals heavy in bonuses, even though other teams have been willing to take a multi-year chance on him.
This past season, Wood was converted to closer. He went through rocky periods, but he turned out to be reliable and, at times, all-out dominant. He also again missed one big chunk of time in the season - a full month battling (of all things) a blister. But he's proven that he is a serviceable closer, his arm was not a problem at all this year, and he is again a pending free agent who will likely be coveted by numerous teams. Can Jim Hendry bring him back?
It's questionable. The current hanging issue is years. Wood's already given the Cubs a few one-year deals. He's worked to prove that he can be reliable. The current rumor is that he wants a 3 year deal minimally, while the Cubs may be reluctant to give him more than 2 years.
I think that a compromise might be something like I suggested in my massive Free Agency article last week:
Offer Wood a 2 year deal which pays somewhere between 7-8 million a season. Include minimally 1 and perhaps 2 option years which automatically kick in if Wood meets an innings pitched requirement of, say, 100 between Years 1 and 2. Hell, do it just like this:
Year 1: 6.5 million
Year 2: 7.5 million
Year 3: If 100 innings pitched in Yrs 1 and 2, 8.5 million, can be voided by the pitcher
Year 4: If 160 innings pitched in Yrs 1, 2, and 3, 9.5 million, can be voided by the pitcher
Hopefully this would keep Wood happy. It would also make him very well-paid (if not overpaid) to be the closer.
Regardless, Kerry Wood actually likes Chicago. He is actually loyal to this city, this team, and the fans. He may go, but I don't think he will, and if any player on the current Cubs team has a chance of wearing a Cubs uniform from Day First to Day Last, it's Kerry Wood.
And remember. Jim Hendry has a track record of retaining any and every free agent Cub he's wanted to keep. Does anybody here think there's a chance that Hendry doesn't want to keep Kerry Wood a Cub?
Now that Hendry’s extension is out of the way, he’s started to talk about the direction the Cubs are headed in this offseason. The interesting thing is that the storyline is shaping up to be Dempster stays, and Wood goes.
"I had a lot of talks with Ryan - not dollars and cents talks - during the season," Hendry said. "Ryan knows we want him to stay here. He's never expressed a desire that he wanted to leave. We have not had formal conversations yet. But I expect to speak with Ryan's agent and Ryan himself, possibly, in the next week or so."
"Ryan knows we want him to stay here, and he's never expressed a desire that he wants to leave," Hendry said Monday. "Certainly, the year he had and type of clubhouse presence he is and total team guy, we certainly have every intention of trying to keep Ryan."
Now, here’s what he says about Wood:
"We're going to get our plan together, and we'll try to move forward with what we think is best for the organization," Hendry said. "Kerry has done a terrific job in the closing role. But at the same time, there's a lot of conversations that have to happen with his representatives and him as to what his desires are and what type of contract he's looking for."
The tenor there seems different. Keep in mind that Wood is probably the consolation prize for whoever wins loses the K-Rod Derby – it’s a thin crop at closer this offseason, especially if Hoffman gets retained by the Padres and the Brewers exercise their option on Salomon Torres. There’s nothing the hot stove loves to do more than shower stupid money on relief pitching. Especially for guys who are “proven closers.”
Also, Kremlinologists among you can have fun parsing this statement about Felix Pie:
"We feel Felix is going to be a good player," Hendry said. "You're talking about a 23-year-old kid. He'll be an out-of-options player. Without any kind of injury or significant change, he'll have a very good chance to make the ballclub out of Spring Training."
Of course, I’m glad that Hendry isn’t simply looking at this as a way to fix the team’s October “problem”:
"I don't know how you differentiate between you build a team for April to September and then you try to build something different for October," Hendry said. "We had as good a team as there was in the National League. We had the best record. We just played bad baseball for three days. We stunk last year against the Diamondbacks. We're all going to put our heads together and see if there are other ways we think we can improve the club. All you do is try to get in every year and keep working on trying to get better once you get in there to accomplish that goal. There's a whole history in professional sports of clubs that kept getting close and kept getting close and finally they knocked that door in. That's what we're going to continue to try to do."
Your milage may vary.
Tonight was the death blow. If the Cubs win tomorrow, it's the cheap shot.
It actually wasn't easy. In fact, it was rather dramatic. Sure, the Cubs started off by doing what they do best - pummeling an otherwise unbeatable CC Sabathia - but then they finished the game off by doing that other thing they do best - getting past by the skin of their flippin' teeth.
First and foremost, the lineup did what it was supposed to do. Hitters 1-4 were responsible for 8 of the team's 11 hits. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, they all drove in runs. In fact, at one point the Cubs were up on the "Unbeatable" C.C. Sabathia by a score of 3-0, right up until Prince Fielder decided to lunch... er, launch a two-run homer into the bleachers.
But then, when all hope was lost, Alfonso Soriano stepped up and hit his own dinger, giving the Cubs a comfortable 2-run lead. Which was promptly ... well, squashed by Prince Fielder, who, uh, sat on a Carlos Marmol heater and knocked it into the bleachers. And yet, again, dissatisfied with a mere 1-run lead, Hank White made a pinch hit appearance in the bottom of the 8th and gave the Cubs a huge insurance run.
Naturally, the 9th inning was as dramatic as you'd expect it to be. Kerry Wood continues to scare the crap out of skittish Cub fans everywhere. After striking out the leadoff hitter, Wood surrendered a single to pinch hitter Mike Lamb, before getting out number 2, only for Ray Durham - of all jabrones! - to hit a run-scoring double. Wood then gave up an infield single to Ryan Braun before turning things back over to the 3-4, 2 homer, 3 RBI Prince Fielder.
As Wood reached back and heaved pitch after pitch, eventually reaching a ... well, full count on the fat man, I could only imagine Cub fans everywhere yelling the following:
I was on IM with Jason at the time, saying "huh, full count? Wood should toss him a sick breaking pitch because, worst case scenario, he walks him and faces a less-dangerous hitter." Wood then tossed a sick breaking pitch and struck Fielder out to end the game. Yep. Sometimes I'm very good at pretending that I know what I'm talking about.
Real credit has to go to Ryan Dempster. Clownsevelt has been putting in a year-long effort to prove that he's ace material. On this Cubs team, he remains the 3rd option for any playoff series, but tonight he proved to me that he could out-duel anybody else's #1 guy.
The magic number is now down to 4. The Cubs are on a 5 game winning streak. The Brewers are down for the count. There's two weeks left of baseball before it gets really exciting. This is what we've been waiting for, folks. I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying it.
There have been times this season when Kerry Wood has most resembled Rod Beck. Sometimes he all-out dominates, other times it seems to be a real struggle for him to find his command. While the Cubs should have won yesterday, and while Wood should have gotten a save, it sure would have been easier if he hadn't walked runners and given up a leadoff hit.
The Cubs have the day off. I can't help but wonder if Lou and Sinatro will be trying to drive to St. Louis; wouldn't it be funny if they wound up in Iowa? Eh, probably not quite as funny for them, even if Iowa is a hell of a state.
Since this is a pretty wimpy post to start the day, I'll mention one other thought that's been floating around my brain. The last 10 games of the season - and the final 5 in particular - should be very telling about the team and their momentum going into the playoffs. If they finish Sept as they started it, I won't put too much hope into the concept of Post Season Glory. But if they are able to end the month strong, the sky's the limit.
Beating the piss out of the Cardinals right now would be a good start toward ending the season.
We have seven weeks to go before the big dance starts, and comparing 2008 to other past Cubs years, this team has a relatively good chance of making it there. That's one way to avoid pissing off Karma by using the "p" word that rhymes with "gheyoffs". Most of us HERE at this point in time are forward-thinking enough fans to realize that October roster composition is the key issue for the Cubs.
By far, the bullpen is the biggest area of concern, but I do not come today to offer the optimal bullpen recipe. Only the fetching Sarah Wood knows how much her hubby hurts, and whether he can finish the year as our closer. Only the theoretically fetching Mrs. Howry can know whether her hubby is tired, or toast. Only the also theoretically fetching Mrs. Marmol (or, based on input from Kyle, assorted St. Louis casino floozies) know whether or not her hubby has enough sack hangin' in his BVDs to be able to throw that sick twisted slidepiece again and again in the biggest situations.
So I cannot in good conscience come out here today and instruct Messrs. Hendry and Pinella in Optimal Cubs Bullpen Construction.
I also cannot instruct the above-mentioned gentlemen on what to do with K. Fooky. The Dome has earned a firm, warm spot on the bench based on his recent offensive woes. But if you do that, you cripple your outfield defense, thus your overall defense. I am not going to go through the permutations here, but I defy you to suggest an alternative defensive arrangement that wouldn't be a gigantic step backward. Furthermore, while your typical Anglo or Latin redass might respond one way to a benching, I honestly don't know how the Dome would react. All I know is that Japanese think WAY different from us. That's not wrong or right, just different. That is why Uncle Lou is being paid the large bux.
In conclusion, I come today to gently suggest that the 25th man on the roster should not be Daryle Ward anymore. It should be Micah Hofpauir. Micah does everything Ward does, a little bit better. He is a bit better hitter, a bit better runner, and a bit better fielder. Granted he still sucks everywhere but 1B, he is no Lou Brock on the basepaths, and he really does not figure in our longterm plans.
But when going to the big dance, don't you want to bring the absolute best dancers you have? Micah > Daryle, so wish Mr. Ward well with his degerative disks and his hugh jass and send him on his way.
A small gesture, perhaps. But I know my limitations, and this is one area I know I am correct in, and I cannot believe this is still an issue. Uncle Lou wants "veteran presence"? What the hell is Lassie Edmonds, then? One guy hanging onto his career by his fingernails is enough...
Wood pitched one inning Tuesday against Houston, and had his charity bowling tournament Wednesday. But he wasn't in the bullpen during Friday's 11-inning affair, leading to the question of whether he was available to pitch.
"No, he wasn't available," Piniella said.
Is Wood OK?
"He wasn't available," Piniella repeated. "He was OK, but he wasn't available."
After stonewalling the question and turning to another subject, Piniella eventually went back to Wood's situation.
"Woody's back was bothering him," he said reluctantly.
So the blister problem was fine?
"Yeah, it was his back," Piniella said.
Can Wood pitch Saturday?
"We'll see when we come to the ballpark," he said.