Cubs ought to re-acquire Kerry Wood for setup gig
Cubs brass can sugarcoat it all they want. They have a dire situation in their bullpen with only two sure things — closer Carlos Marmol and lefty setup man John Grabow.
To gussy up the mess by proclaiming jobs are open and a whole platoon of undistinguished kids in camp in Mesa can claim the relief roles is, well, dishonest. That’s why GM Jim Hendry simply should dial up Cleveland counterpart Mark Shapiro, offer a prospect and a veteran, and reacquire all-time Cub Kerry Wood as his right-handed eighth-inning man.
Of course, Hendry must first call owner Tom Ricketts, who does not seem to have any extra bucks to put toward player payroll after spending $900 million to buy the Cubs. The payroll did go up about $10 million, but that’s largely soaked up by escalating long-term contracts.
Wood, who earns about $10 million, does not expect to finish out the season with the rebuilding, budget-conscious Indians. He figured he’d be traded by July. But the Cubs can’t afford to wait ’till a porous ‘pen flushes down the season early on. Throw out all the pretenses and trade for Wood now.
Wood was a decent, but not great, Cubs closer in his first full season back from constant shoulder miseries in 2008. One of the most admired men in the clubhouse, Wood would not have departed if Hendry didn’t need his projected salary to pay for Milton Bradley, the Cubs’ biggest mistake since letting Greg Maddux walk via free agency in 1992. Little did Hendry know the Bradley debacle would have such far-reaching consequences, like a domino effect.
The Cubs simply cannot put untested kids in the eighth-inning role. Middle relief is fine, break ‘em in there the way the Atlanta Braves used to bring up their talented pitchers and place them in a no-pressure situation. There are no Bruce Sutters or Lee Smiths coming up through the farm system. For a change, the best Cubs prospects are position players.
Wood can still throw in the mid-90s, but he’s not consistent enough to close anymore. He can still fill in when Carlos Marmol isn’t available. By the way, someone savvy would need to counsel Marmol, who has pined for the closer’s job for three years, that his role is not threatened at all. But Wood’s veteran stature, his knowledge of the pressure surrounding all things Cub and the fact he won’t wet his pants in a tight spot in the eighth make him the best man for the job now. His motivation would be unquestioned, and he’d be coming home after having moved here full-time from longtime quarters in the Phoenix area.
Besides, Wood’s stature is such that he’d be a great counsel to younger pitchers when Maddux, now a kind of utility honcho assisting Hendry, is not around. For years Wood bristled when questioned about his awry mechanics. More recently he admitted to mediocre mechanics in salvaging his career. He’s become baseball street-smarts over the years, and is a true Cub like Maddux. Even Carlos Zambrano deferred to Wood when he pitched in Chicago.
Manager Lou Piniella suggests that those who wash out in the competition for the fourth and fifth starters’ jobs can simply be shifted over to the bullpen. Maybe, but not for the key setup job. Forget about batting-practice pitcher Carlos Silva, who looked like a candidate for release off his embarrassing first spring start against the White Sox. Jeff Samardzija hasn’t handled that kind of pressure before. Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall are lefties, and a right-hander is sorely needed.
If Hendry and Ricketts have given this some thought, they better not pause in reflection, Andy MacPhail-style. The Minnesota Twins likely will be trolling for a “name” reliever with the probable loss of closer Joe Nathan to elbow surgery. The Twins are built to win now, particularly in a season of opening up Target Field. They have to do something to counteract the superior pitching of the White Sox in the American League Central.
All Wood will cost is a couple of non-essential bodies and a little money. Now Ricketts is learning that if you want to run a winning, big-market team, better have a lot of cash in reserve.