This is the new Mr. Cub. Kerry Wood has too much invested here to leave now and become a mercenary and chase a ring.
Who knows how long the Cubs will be playing meaningful baseball this summer, or how much Wood will have left when theyre good again. But the 34-year-old reliever has spent almost half his life in this organization, and his family has made this city their home.
Ultimately, that outweighed the interest Wood received from contenders like the Detroit Tigers (before they signed Prince Fielder) and the Philadelphia Phillies. Thats why hes traveling to Arizona this week to begin spring training with a team that has almost no external expectations and is playing for the future.
Even if it took until the middle of January to agree on a one-year, 3 million deal that was synched up to the opening of the Cubs Convention. It was perfect public relations timing, though even chairman Tom Ricketts had to admit: We probably could have done it a little sooner.
One offer from an unidentified team got to the point where Wood thought he was going to take a physical.
It was a three-week rollercoaster there for a little while I was in four different cities, Wood said Monday night before the Comcast SportsNet Sports Awards at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. It worked out perfect. This is where we want to play. But, yeah, its definitely tempting to go win a ring. Thats why we play the game.
If I (had) won a ring with the Yankees in 2010 that would have been great. But I dont think it would have meant as much as spending the time that you spend here on all the bad teams and then turning it around and getting so close. It means more for me (to) be part of a winning organization that maybe turns some things around.
There were veteran guys when I was younger I still remember things that they told me and that still helps. I dont want to be labeled as that guy, but its nice to tell a young kid something and see them go out and figure it out and have success.
Wood can still pitch, but this is a team that will need that presence in the clubhouse.
This winter, the Cubs were content to let the media feed the perception that they were in on all the big-ticket items, and then watch them all the fall off the board: Albert Pujols; Yu Darvish; Fielder; and Yoenis Cespedes, who on Monday agreed to a reported four-year, 36 million deal with the Oakland As.
Looking toward 2014 and beyond, Theo Epstein showed no desire to make a splash, instead buying low on young players with potential upside who are under club control. The new president of baseball operations might be the only one with the credibility to sell a long-term rebuilding process to the fan base.
If these fans are going to be patient, this is the guy theyre going to be patient with, Wood said. Hes got a track record with what he did in Boston and turning that organization around and bringing (that) city (the) championship they desperately wanted and needed for so long.
He was the guy that got it done there. Does it mean hes going to do it here? There (are) no guarantees, but hes got a great owner he works for and hes in the best city, in my opinion, for baseball. He gets the owner on his side and the fans on his side hell do great things.
Epstein has promised that the Cubs will build a sustainable model where theyre playing in October every year. Wood, whos about to begin his 16th season in the organization, has lived through the boom-and-bust cycles at Clark and Addison. His contract includes a 3 million club option for 2013.
At this point, its one year, Wood said. At this stage of the career, I think its a re-assess at the end of the year to take a few weeks off and see where everythings at and see if its something that I want to continue to do. But I feel like Ive got two or three years left. My body feels good.
Theres no announcement or anything (like): This is going to be the last one.
It seems like Wood enjoys not being the story anymore. He understands the pulse of the city better than most players, and knows that right now no ones making big predictions.
Its Chicago, Wood said. Its a result-oriented city. Thats just the way it goes, especially with baseball on the North Side. I dont think anyones expecting us to walk out there and run away with the thing and win the World Series. (Thats) a little delusional. But I think weve got a good enough team to surprise some people and compete in our division.
If any of those future core players emerge in 2012, they might follow Woods example, and ask him about doing your job while handling the spotlight, and what it might be like if the Cubs ever win.