Big Questions in Cubdom: Should the Cubs Re-sign Kerry Wood?

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In a tumultuous off-season for the Chicago Cubs, there have been a slew of players who have found themselves on the outside looking in with the new regime of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer doing some serious housecleaning. Aramis Ramirez has departed to Milwaukee, Carlos Pena won’t be brought back by the club, and Carlos Zambrano, Tyler Colvin, Sean Marshall, and Andrew Cashner have all been dealt away. One free agent, however, has Cubs fans torn between their loyalty to him and their willingness to allow the new baseball brain trust to shape the team as they see fit.

Kerry Wood may not have had the greatest 2011 season (3.35 ERA, 3-5 record, and a 1.29 WHIP in 55 innings), but his impact on the franchise goes far beyond just what he does on the mound. He spent the first 11 years of his career with the Cubs, and even though he left for a couple of years to pitch for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees, his heart never left the franchise. Legendary now is the story of how he approached then General Manager Jim Hendry after the funeral of Ron Santo and said he’d want to come back to the organization. That led to a cheap $1.5 million contract that Wood signed in spite of receiving more lucrative offers from the White Sox and Red Sox.

Now, with Cubs Convention fast approaching and several teams expressing interest in Wood’s services, it isn’t certain whether or not he will return to the franchise next season. The Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds are known to be interested in Wood, but the Cubs are not taking any chances apparently. According to a statement made by Hoyer today, the Cubs have offered the veteran a “substantial raise” over his last contract. Considering that Wood is requesting $4 million, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Cubs were close to that threshold.

The wait to find out as to whether or not they are going to bring him back will not be a long one. According to what Wood told NBC-5 Chicago, he will make his decision by Friday, which is also the Opening Ceremony of the Cubs Convention. The question, of course, is whether or not the Cubs will end up getting Wood back after what have been described in some corners as acrimonious discussions. The other question is whether or not the Cubs SHOULD re-sign Wood.

To start with the second question, there is little doubt that the Cubs should bring Wood back. After all, they dealt their primary set-up man in Marshall to the Reds, so they are going to need a veteran to shore up the back end of their bullpen to bridge the gap to Carlos Marmol. Granted, the Cubs probably aren’t going to win a ton of games anyway, but even though that’s the case, they still need a guy they can count on in the 7th and 8th innings, and that’s what Wood can give them.

Perhaps even more importantly than the actual on-field impact Wood will make, there are the off-field intangibles that he brings to the table. He is a clubhouse leader on a team that is in desperate need of one with all of the high-profile departures over the last few months, and he is viewed by many as the current day incarnation of Ernie Banks, ie Mr. Cub. There is little doubt that he is the face of the franchise in the view of fans of the club, and that kind of popularity would make parting with the Texan particularly difficult.

Ultimately, Wood is going to have to decide whether he wants to change teams in order to join a contender at his advanced age, or whether he wants to remain a Cub for at least this season to see where the rebuilding process takes the team. No one would blame him if he ended up chasing a ring, similarly to the way that Karl Malone and Gary Payton did when they joined the Los Angeles Lakers after long careers elsewhere. It wouldn’t surprise anyone, however, to see Wood pull a Steve Nash and remain with his team despite the lack of legitimate playoff chances.

We are going to have to wait and see whether or not Wood chases the money or stays at home where most fans feel he belongs, but one thing is for certain in Cubdom: in an era where the fans are being asked to be patient with a new regime, asking them to do that with the Wood negotiations might just be a mistake.

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