Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

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Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

While new Cubs baseball management has said all the right things about re-signing Kerry Wood as they go about the process of rebuilding a 71-win team, it appears that talking may be as far as they are going to go to get a deal done with the popular pitcher. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told me late Monday night that Wood's days as a Cub appear all but over.

"Woody wanted to be here despite the rebuilding process but while the Cubs were saying they wanted him back they were unwilling to pay him the market value for a solid set up man," he said. "He has heard from a number of teams that are World Series contenders and they are all willing to pay him a very fair salary to strengthen their bullpen. The Cubs expected him to pitch for another hometown discount. He has already done that for them a couple of times before. There is no reason that he should have to do that again."

Wood joined me on WGN Radio's Sports Night on Monday evening and while he didn't close the door on the Cubs, he sounded like a man ready to move on when I asked him about wanting to keep pitching. Well, thats the thing. Regardless of what happens were still in Chicago, were dedicated to the city and things will work out for me in the city of Chicago because were dedicated to the city, were dedicated to the community, were dedicated to helping children and again were staying here were raising the family here," said Wood. "Im a Texas boy, but I feel like Ive become a Chicagoan, so were happy to be here whether I finish here or whether I dont, we plan on being here a long time.

Wood made 1.5 million in 2011 after giving the Cubs a bargain basement deal to fit into then GM Jim Hendry's budget. It appears that the new Cubs administration expected him to play for basically the same money despite the fact that the team shed several big salaries. Whether or not Wood's Cubs career has come to an end he still plans on making Chicago his family's full time home and continuing his charity work. This is where were raising the family, we may end up in a suburb but well be in the Chicago area, not too far from the city if we do move out, but this is where were raising the family, this is where were raising the kids," explained Wood. "Were gonna stay very involved in the community, this wasnt done for a couple years and is gonna fade away. I dont have a whole lot of plans for after Im done playing so this is gonna take up a little bit of my time. We look forward to making a difference, making a change in some neighborhoods and really just helping out the children of Chicago."

Wood was asked about the fans who may be bitterly disappointed if he is not a part of the Cubs new culture change as well as a part of their rebuilt bullpen. The fans have always been great to me and my family as well and thats part of the reason weve stayed here. The communitys been great to us and the citys been great to us. From a fans standpoint I understand that theyve kind of seen me grow upI signed when I was 18, but I got drafted when I was 17, so thats half my life as a Cub. So I get it, at this point Im the last one left from a 2003 team that went deep into the playoffs, almost got it done. Theres always time for change, and theres always room for it, so well just have to wait and see.

Cubs boss Theo Epstein appeared on WGN Radio's "Cubs Corner" last week and spoke very eloquently about Wood and whether or not he wanted him back on the 2012 team. Kerry Wood, I love this guy. I love what he brings between the lines, on the field and really Ive just admired him his whole career with how he conducts himself and what he means in the clubhouse," said Espstein. "Kerry Wood is exactly the type of guy we want, to build a winning culture here in Chicago. I would be greatly, greatly disappointed if were not able to bring him back, were actively engaged in negotiations, its the off-season its the part of the season where agents get involved and money is part of the equation. I think this one should work out. You have a team who really respects the guy, wants him back desperately, you have a player who loves this city, is a huge part of the community here with the family, the foundation and wants to be back, if we cant work this one out were doing something wrong, wed love to get that one done and I expect to.

When Epstein's comments were played for Wood during the radio interview he said all the right things but in listening to him it was apparent that he is disappointed that his negotiations didn't go more smoothly. "Obviously it's great to hear those things. I mean, that's great. I don't envy the job he has and what he's doing right now. I think he's got a tough job ahead of him. Moves have to be made, some that he's already done. So, he's not in an easy position. But again, hopefully 2, 3, 4 years down the road we're saying that he made all the right moves, and that's why this team is consistently in the playoffs. So we hope that happens."

If Wood's career with the Cubs is indeed over he leaves as one of the most popular players in team history and also one of the classiest. He is very deserving of playing for a team that has a legitimate chance to win a championship and with the Tigers, the Phillies, the Reds, the Angels and others all interested, Wood's options are many. It appears he will make a decision on his next home by Saturday. Will Theo Epstein ride to the rescue and save the day? If he plans on it time is running out so he better move quickly.

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

Dexter Fowler buttoned up a white No. 25 Cardinals jersey and put on a red St. Louis hat, posing for the cameras during Friday morning’s press conference at Busch Stadium.

Fowler stood in between Mike Matheny, the St. Louis manager who now has a new leadoff guy at the top of his lineup card, and John Mozeliak, the general manager who helped structure a five-year, $82.5 million contract that goes against The Cardinal Way.

That visual might be disorienting for Cubs fans who just watched what will probably be the best two seasons of Fowler’s career. But Theo Epstein’s front office understandably wanted to get younger, upgrade defensively and preserve some financial flexibility for the future, planning to go with Albert Almora Jr. and ex-Cardinal Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare.

“I’ll be forever grateful that I was a Cub,” Fowler said. “We made history, won a World Series. But I guess that door is closed, and, you know, I’m a Cardinal now. And we’re trying to make history over here as well.”

Let’s not get carried away with all the talk about Fowler being such a great leader and magnetic clubhouse personality. There were enough questions about him that the draft-pick compensation dragged down his market to the point where he accepted a $13 million guarantee in spring training. But he is a switch-hitter who sees pitches and works at-bats (.366 career on-base percentage) and can ignite an offense when healthy.

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon might not go with a traditional leadoff hitter in 2017. But this lineup should still score 800-plus runs again, factoring in a full season of Kyle Schwarber, projected growth from MVP Kris Bryant and All Stars Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell and an anticipated bounce-back year from Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder had been one of the least productive hitters in the majors.

 “Schwarber is not a bad name, Kyle is not a bad name at all,” Maddon said when asked about his leadoff hitter during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland. “(Ben) Zobrist isn’t a bad name. There are different guys to consider right there.

“Actually, a couple years ago, (when) Kyle came up and Dexter was still there, I considered leading Kyle off and putting Dexter second. But I had all the dudes do all the work — all our nerds did all the work — and they really liked Fowler 1 and they liked Schwarber 2, just based on our data.

“So I went with that, and it worked out really, really well. So now all of the sudden, Dexter is not there anymore. It’s not impossible to consider Kyle in that spot, Zobrist in that spot.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything differently during the course of this offseason that might cause me to think differently, but there’s not a whole lot of other candidates.”

Fowler bet on himself after the Baltimore Orioles dragged out negotiations over a reported three-year deal in the $30 million range, shocking the baseball world when he showed up in Arizona in late February. It paid off with a staggering contract that will add another level of intrigue to a rivalry that has already seen Heyward and pitcher John Lackey switch sides.

Fowler will be in Cardinal red on Opening Night 2017 when the Cubs begin their World Series title defense at Busch Stadium.

“It’s bittersweet,” Fowler said. “Now they’re the rival. But you still got some boys over there. We’ll always be boys. We won a championship together. But when you get on the field, it’s ‘go time.’ Now we’re playing against each other.”

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

The Cubs have the World Series trophy, and that's the ultimate in bragging rights.

But new Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler — who helped the Cubs win that first championship since 1908 — thinks there's not too much separating the Central Division rivals.

Fowler officially switched sides in the rivalry Friday, signing a five-year deal with the Cardinals and getting an introduction in St. Louis.

"Playing over there and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and they weren't that far away," Fowler said at his introductory press conference Friday morning. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

Even though the Cubs are on top of the baseball world right now — and the Cardinals missed out on the playoffs last season — the numbers back up Fowler's claim.

Only one game separated the two in their regular-season series in 2016, the Cubs taking 10 games and the Cardinals winning nine. The year prior, both teams won more than 97 games and reached the postseason, with the Cubs eliminating the Cardinals in the NLDS. During the regular season, though, the Cardinals won 11 of the 19 matchups and the Cubs won eight.

The two teams have indirectly swapped All-Star outfielders in each of the last two offseasons. Jason Heyward signed a huge deal with the Cubs prior to the 2016 season. And now Fowler will be in the Cardinals' Opening Day lineup in 2017.

That ought to add even more fuel to the fire in this epic rivalry.

But the rings are the thing, of course, so can the Cardinals challenge the Cubs as the North Siders attempt to make it back-to-back championships in 2017?

"I can't tell what the future has in mind, but I feel like this team has a chance to win a World Series," Fowler said.