Cubs bring Wood back with one-year deal
Right-hander takes hometown discount to return to Chicago
CHICAGO -- Give Ron Santo an assist for getting Kerry Wood back in a Cubs uniform.
Wood went to Santo's funeral on Dec. 10, and later that day, attended a fundraiser for Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster's foundation. It was at the pizza restaurant that Wood talked to general manager Jim Hendry about returning to the Cubs, who drafted him in 1995 and who he played for from 1998-2008.
"He said, 'I hope you have some interest,'" Hendry said. [He said] 'Trust me, it's not going to cost you as much as you think.'"
The end result was that Wood put his family first and gave the Cubs a hometown discount no other team could've gotten. The right-hander declined other multiyear offers and signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract on Friday. That dollar amount is not a typo.
"It boils down to what's comfortable and where I wanted to play, and this is the best fit for both," Wood said. "This is where I want to play."
This isn't like Cliff Lee's contract in which he rejected $28 million from the Yankees and chose the Phillies.
"I think Cliff left a lot more on the table than I did," Wood said, laughing.
This is more like 1987, when Andre Dawson gave the Cubs a blank check to fill in. Dawson needed to get off Montreal's artificial turf. He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award that year. Who knows? Among the offers Wood turned down was a multiyear deal from the White Sox.
WOOD'S GREATEST HITSKerry Wood rejoined the Cubs on Friday, signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Here are some of the highlights from his first 10 seasons with the Cubs.
1. 20-K game, May 6, 1998
It was Wood's fifth big league start, and a memorable one as he fanned 20 to tie a Major League record. He gave up one hit -- a single by Ricky Gutierrez in the third inning -- and did not walk a batter. It was a dominating performance at Wrigley Field. He was the first rookie and youngest pitcher to record 20 strikeouts in a game. Wood had one other one-hitter, May 25, 2001, against the Brewers.
2. Wood vs. Clemens, June 7, 2003
Roger Clemens was vying for his 300th career win in an Interleague game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but Wood and the Cubs foiled his bid, winning, 5-2. Wood gave up one run on three hits and struck out 11. Eric Karros, who subbed for Hee-Seop Choi, injured in a collision with Wood, hit a three-run homer for Chicago.
3. The 10,000th win, April 23, 2008
Wood was called on to close out the franchise's 10,000th win against the Rockies at Coors Field, but he gave up the game-tying run in the bottom of ninth on Ryan Spilborghs' RBI triple. Wood ended up with the "W" when the Cubs rallied to score the go-ahead run in 10th for a 7-6 win. Carlos Marmol notched the save, his second of the year.
4. NL Division Series, Oct. 5, 2003
The Cubs had not won a playoff series since the 1908 World Series. But Wood picked up his second win of the NLDS in Game 5 as the Cubs beat the Braves, 5-1, at Turner Field. He also won Game 1, combining with three others on a three-hitter. Wood became the first Cubs pitcher to win two postseason games since Hank Borowy in the 1945 World Series.
5. NLCS, Oct. 15, 2003
The Cubs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to the Marlins to take a 5-3 lead at Wrigley Field, aided by Wood's two-run homer. But Florida won the game and the series, spoiling the Cubs' bid to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945. Wood took the loss. He is one of 14 players in franchise history to appear on four playoff teams (1998, 2003, '07, '08).
"We threw it out to Jim that one night," Wood said. "He was honest with me from Day 1. He said, 'If this isn't a possibility, we won't go down that road.' He said, 'Obviously, I can't compete [financially],' and I said, 'I'm not asking you to.'"
This definitely helps the Cubs keep their 2011 budget in check. Hendry took a creative step earlier this month when he signed free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year deal. Pena received a $10 million deal, but the breakdown is such that he will receive a $2 million signing bonus and get $3 million in the 2011 calendar year. The remaining $5 million will be paid in January 2012.
Besides a first baseman, the Cubs wanted to find an experienced right-handed setup pitcher this offseason to bridge the gap to closer Carlos Marmol.
"It's no secret we weren't going to sign a lot of players this [offseason], and one of the biggest needs is exactly what [Wood] fills in a variety of ways," Hendry said. "No. 1, he can still pitch, he can pitch late in the game, he can close when Marmol needs a blow, he can close if Marmol pulls a [hamstring] and goes on the [disabled list].
"He enables us to have tremendous flexibility with [Andrew Cashner]," Hendry said of the right-hander, who could move into the rotation. "I can't think of a better mentor for our young hard-throwing kid from Texas than the older hard-throwing kid from Texas.
"[Wood] is a great fit, and the way he allowed us to do the contract enables us to still go out and do a few more things hopefully before the start of camp," Hendry said. "He didn't come back here to be on a fifth-place team. We all believe we'll get this going in the right way and spin off how it ended with Mike Quade at the end of the season. We're real happy about Pena, we're real happy about Woody and if we can do a couple more things, we're going to feel real good about the team going into camp."
Wood and his family have made Chicago their offseason home. After talking to Hendry, Wood met with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts earlier this week, and the two sides agreed to terms.
"From the day Tom got here, he's always expressed to me that it's important to take care of quality ex-players who are true Cubs, and the Ronnie situation may have brought that to the front for all of us," Hendry said. "Nobody loved Kerry Wood more than Santo. I can hear [Santo] now on the plane when Woody passed by and we won, and he'd say, 'Hey, big boy, [heck] of a job.' In its own strange way, I believe this [deal] wouldn't have happened if we didn't hook up at the church and Dempster's function on Friday."
Wood reluctantly left the Cubs after the 2008 season, filing for free agency, and he signed a two-year, $20.5 million deal with the Indians. He was in Cleveland for 1 1/2 seasons, getting traded to the Yankees on July 31 for two Minor League players. Wood was effective in short relief with New York, compiling a 0.69 ERA in 24 games as he struck out 31 over 26 innings.
Wood's deal does include incentives for games finished, but it isn't as if the deal has enough extras to boost the salary from $1.5 million to $10 million. The Cubs are well-versed in Wood's medical history, and he needed to undergo a physical Thursday. The right-hander has been on the disabled list 14 times in his career because of his shoulder, elbow, back and blisters.
When he's done pitching, Wood may switch gears and do community work for the Cubs or get into coaching. Right now, the Cubs need a right-handed setup man.
"It's never been about the money for me," Wood said. "I did leave some money out there, but again, it's about being home, it's about being here at Wrigley, which is home for me. My wife grew up here and we have family here, and from a personal standpoint, for my family, it's perfect for us to be back with the Cubs family. We feel that's where we belong and I belong, and not just this year, but for many years to come."
Wood compiled a 77-61 record, 3.65 ERA and 34 saves in 10 seasons with the Cubs. He burst onto the scene in 1998, striking out 20 on May 6 in his fifth big league start, which tied a Major League record, and won the NL Rookie of the Year honors that year. But Wood needed elbow surgery the next season and missed all of 1999. Problems with his shoulder prompted the Cubs to move him to the bullpen in 2007.
He ranks fourth on the team's all-time list with 1,407 strikeouts. Carlos Zambrano passed him last season and is now second (1,441) behind Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, who fanned 2,038. As a starter, Wood has a career 71-55 record with a 3.69 ERA, and as a reliever, he's 12-13 with 62 saves and a 3.45 ERA.
Reliever Jeff Gray wore No. 34 briefly last season for the Cubs. Now, it's Wood's.
"We're definitely glad to be home," Wood said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.