Cubs wont be starstruck anymore

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Cubs wont be starstruck anymore

Perhaps this all ends Friday night, with everyone holding up a No. 34 jersey and flashbulbs popping inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom.

But its the middle of January and Kerry Wood is still a free agent. The 34-year-old reliever is being linked to contenders like the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels. Maybe its time to chase a ring.

This is an iconic player who came back at a discount and will always be identified with this city. Hes also someone who, by his very nature, is proud and competitive and likes to keep score.

Whatever happens, Wood remaining unsigned past Christmas and well into the New Year shows that Theo Epstein isnt going to be starstruck. A deadline of sorts appears to be this weekends Cubs Convention.

We continue to want Kerry back in Chicago, general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. Weve offered him a substantial raise and we certainly hope it gets done.

These executives are not worried about external pressure from the fans or media. They are not pretending that the team is one Prince Fielder megadeal away from the World Series. They are interested in value and walled off from sentiment, not particularly attached to this group of players.

This front office is playing the long game, which is why the Matt Garza trade rumors arent going away anytime soon. The signing of Paul Maholm became official on Tuesday and that represents another incremental move that wasnt made to sell tickets.

Maholm went 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA for a bad Pittsburgh Pirates team last year. He will receive 4.25 million this season, with a 6.5 million club option for 2013 (or a 500,000 buyout).

Maholm was shut down with shoulder soreness late last season, but described it as a pulled muscle, nothing major. He has been working with the training staff for Dr. James Andrews and expects to be good to go in spring training.

The Cubs now have six starters on paper: Garza, Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Chris Volstad and Travis Wood. Hoyer wouldnt comment on the Garza reports, but said that the Maholm deal is not a precursor to anything.

Garza and Wood are two big names that would fit in on any team built to win now. The Cubs are looking to make a splash in 2014 and beyond.

Thirteen months ago, Wood attended Ron Santos funeral and felt a pull back toward the Cubs and a place that felt like home.

Wood took a below-market deal one year at 1.5 million that was negotiated by Jim Hendry, the general manager at the time. Their relationship went back to the 1995 draft, when the Cubs took the kid out of Grand Prairie High School (Texas) with the fourth overall pick.

There was also an understanding with chairman Tom Ricketts that Wood would have a role within the organization after his playing career was over.

Near the end of last season, Wood said he would probably retire if he couldnt pitch for the Cubs in 2012. The reliever laughed when it was suggested that he just gave away all his leverage.

Wood and his family live in Chicago during the offseason. His wife, Sarah, grew up in the citys suburbs and together theyve launched a charitable foundation that will hold a fundraiser on Friday night at Harry Carays Tavern on Navy Pier.

Several Cubs players are scheduled to attend the event, along with Ricketts and Epstein, who has called re-signing Wood a priority. A new administration might have a different idea of what Wood is worth.

We come in with somewhat of a fresh set of eyes, Hoyer said. That doesnt diminish what people have done long before were here. We both understand the history of the organization and we understand which players mean a lot to the fans. Kerry is one of them (and) were aware of (that).

Fresh eyes are one thing, but that doesnt mean you sort of ignore the rich past that the Cubs have.

Late Monday night Maholm announced the deal on his personal Twitter account. The next morning he told the media on the conference call: I wasnt trying to scoop any of you guys. Decision time is coming again soon, so you might want to follow @KerryWood.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training. 

The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga. 

Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer. 

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below. 

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."