By Patrick Mooney
The memories flooded Kerry Woods mind at Holy Name Cathedral, seeing all those old teammates and Cubs officials at Ron Santos funeral. After the service, Wood and his wife Sarah began discussing the remote possibility of returning to where they started.
Jim Hendry can still hear Santos voice whenever Wood walked down the aisle of the team plane after a win: Hey, big boy, hell of a job. When Hendry left Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the winter meetings last week, he thought he had no chance of signing the free-agent reliever.
Wood and Hendry greeted each other at Santos funeral and spoke later that night during Ryan Dempsters charity event at D'Agostino's, a pizza joint not far from Wrigley Field. This was the message Wood gave the general manager: Trust me, its not going to cost you as much as you think.
Seven days later, there was Wood pulling on a No. 34 jersey at a stadium club news conference and Hendry beaming at the one-year, 1.5 million deal.
Trust is what their relationship is built upon. Hendry joined the organization in November 1994 and months later, the Cubs made Wood the fourth overall pick in the draft and, over time, a very rich man.
Wood has already made close to 70 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. In turning down multi-year offers elsewhere, and presumed interest from the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox, Wood made a lifestyle choice.
Its reasonable to think that he could have guaranteed himself 10 million more on the open market. But he and his wife want to continue raising their three children in Chicago.
Its never been about the money for me, Wood said Friday. Its about being home.
While theres no formal agreement in place to define Woods post-playing career, Hendry sees him as a potential special assistant in the front office, like Greg Maddux, or a face for the community-relations department. Wood, who will turn 34 next summer, met with chairman Tom Ricketts this week to discuss his future in the organization.
I plan on being a Cub for the rest of my life, Wood said. Were rooted here. Were not going anywhere.
No one wanted to go too deep on Woods retirement, because the Cubs really need him to stay healthy and dominate the eighth inning. The deal contains modest incentives based on games saved should closer Carlos Marmol get hurt and Wood becomes the closer.
But it left enough financial room for the Cubs to keep looking for another starting pitcher. One source said that theyre not close to finalizing an agreement with Brandon Webb, and that the Yankees havent called about Carlos Zambrano, who has a no-trade clause and also wants to stay in Chicago.
The tremendous way that (Wood) allowed us to do the contract enables us to go out and do a few more things hopefully before the start of camp, Hendry said. He didnt come back here to be on a fifth-place team.
The rotation could be strengthened by converting Andrew Cashner, another first-round pick from Texas who can throw 100 mph heat. Wood will be seen as a positive, calming influence on a young bullpen and a clubhouse that could use another leader. But its not like he will be paid to coach.
No offense to Cashner, Wood said, (but) I wasnt signing to help him out.
Its not even Christmas and the Cubs have already addressed their two biggest offseason needs with creative one-year deals. By giving first baseman Carlos Pena a 2 million signing bonus and a deferred 5 million payment that will be delivered in January 2012, Hendry bought himself some flexibility.
Combined Pena and Wood are due 4.5 million in 2011. By comparison, reliever John Grabow will make 4.8 million next season.
It might not seem like such a bargain if Wood goes on the disabled list for the 15th time in his career, but on Friday afternoon nobody around the Cubs wanted to think like that.
Wood thrived in New York as Mariano Riveras setup man (0.69 ERA in 24 games) after a deadline deal with the Indians and until last week, that seemed like a logical destination.
But Wood never wanted to leave Chicago where he was a Rookie of the Year and made two All-Star teams in the first place. He put a price on his sense of belonging.
And from the sadness of Santos death emerged a happy reunion that neither side saw coming.
Nobody loved Kerry Wood more than Ron Santo, Hendry said. In some strange way, I really believe that this wouldnt have happened if we hadnt hooked up at the church.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.