Two years ago, Kerry Wood was closing games for the 97-win Chicago Cubs. Apart from missing four weeks with a blister, he spent the 2008 season without any recurrence of the elbow and shoulder troubles that had plagued him throughout his Cubs career.
But after that season, the Cubs chose to let him walk as a free agent. There are varying stories about why the Cubs let him go; clearly, the choice of Kevin Gregg to replace him in 2009 was not the right one. Once Carlos Marmol was installed as Cubs closer in August 2009, that position was solidified. Since August 23, 2009, Marmol has had 49 saves in 53 opportunities. In 88 appearances since that date covering 94.1 innings, Marmol has allowed 51 hits and 65 walks for a WHIP of 1.23, has struck out 164 batters and given up only two (!) home runs. We all know Marmol has his bouts of wildness and too many hit batters (nine in those 94.1 innings), but when he's on, he's lights-out.
One of the biggest problems for the Cubs in the season just concluded was the relief corps setting up Marmol. Before the season started I had hope that the at least one or two of the four rookies starting the year in the pen would step up. It didn't happen; I was wrong and bullpen failures helped ruin a season in which Cubs starting pitching led the major leagues in quality starts. Yes, I know the QS isn't necessarily the best measure of starting pitching, but it can at least be a gauge for comparison -- Cubs starters had more than the Phillies or Giants, both of whom are still playing baseball this fall.
The Cubs do have a good setup man in Sean Marshall, who seems to have finally found his niche as an excellent eighth-inning reliever. And Andrew Cashner had his moments, as did James Russell; a year's experience should make them better next year.
But there's one pitcher, a free agent after this year, who could really help solidify a young bullpen. It's pretty obvious from the headline and photo on this post who that pitcher is. After the jump, my reasons for pursuing Kerry Wood this offseason.
The Cleveland Indians signed Kerry Wood before 2009. Clearly, it wasn't the right place for him to go, although for the dollars he got ($21 million over two years), he'd probably tell you that part worked out all right. The Tribe was a bad team in 2009 and Wood several times went weeks in between save opportunities and had only 26 save opps for the entire season. That's no way for a closer to be consistent. This year, Wood had some back trouble early in the season and when he came back in early May, again had only 11 save opportunities in two months, and was traded to the Yankees at the non-waiver deadline of July 31 for a PTBNL.
The Yankees almost immediately figured out that Wood's arm angle was wrong:
"Our scouts told us that there was a lot left in his tank," Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
One outing after Wood's arrival, Eiland convinced the 33-year-old right-hander to stand taller on the mound and raise his arm slot to improve the downhill angle on his pitches. "Which is how he pitched earlier in his career," Eiland said.
Hmmm. Maybe the way he pitched when he was saving 34 games for the 2008 Cubs?
In any case, Wood was a lights-out setup man for Mariano Rivera; over 24 appearances covering 26 innings he posted a 1.23 WHIP, an 0.69 ERA and allowed only two runs and one home run.
He's got a pretty good shot at getting the World Series ring that eluded him in 2003. Without going into the excruciating details, we all remember how Wood cried at his locker after NLCS Game Seven, taking responsibility for not winning the pennant for the Cubs. He was always a team leader when he was here. The Cubs could use a guy like that, and having him and Marshall as a lefty-righty setup tandem behind Marmol would immediately make the Cubs bullpen better -- not to mention help give the young relievers a veteran mentor.
According to Wood's baseball-reference.com page, he has earned a little less than $70 million in his baseball career. If he gets a ring this season with the Yankees, he'll have both money and a championship. All that would be missing would be to help bring one to the Cubs; he was in the Cubs organization for 14 years and his wife's family still lives here.
While I'm not rooting for the Yankees in the playoffs, I'd be quietly happy for Kerry Wood if he got a ring... and then have Jim Hendry bring him home for 2011 -- at the right price, of course. Admittedly, I'm a big Wood fan, but this has less to do with sentiment than it does with the fact that Wood has turned himself into an excellent setup reliever. The Cubs desperately need one of those.
Get it done, Jim.