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Retaining Wood; Retaining Good

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
November 28, 2007

The Chicago Cubs re-signed Kerry Wood to a 1-year, $4.2 million deal that could escalate up to $7.65 million as Wood approaches 55 games finished.  Wood claims that he could have gotten a multi-year deal with several other ballclubs.  It's always good to see a 10-year one-teamer remain with the franchise that drafted him, but it should be particularly nice for Cubs fans, who have enjoyed an entirely different Cubs team whenever Wood has been healthy and productive.

Many Cubs fans think of Kerry Wood and mull over what could have been.  Chicago began the 1999 season 33-29, good for second place in the NL Central, five games behind the Houston Astros.  How much closer would the club have been with a healthy Kerry Wood on the team, and would they have still gone 34-66 the rest of the way had their aging pitching staff been worked less hard?  Were Wood completely healthy in 2004, could the Cubs have made up that three game deficit to those same Wild Card-winning Astros?  Had he pitched more than 24.1 innings in 2007, would the Cubs have been seeded differently in the postseason, completely changing their playoff destiny?

I prefer to revel in what Wood has brought to the franchise, rather than what more he could have brought.  In the 10 years that Wood has been a member of the Chicago Cubs, they have finished with a winning record five times and made the playoffs thrice.  In the previous 51 years, spanning from the end of World War II until the infamous 1997 season, the franchise only boasted a winning record eleven times and made the postseason just twice.

Span >.500 >.500 % Playoffs Playoffs%
'98-'07 5 50% 3 30%
'88-'97 3 30% 1 10%
'78-'87 1 10% 1 10%
'68-'77 5 50% 0 0%
'58-'67 2 20% 0 0%
'48-57 0 0% 0 0%
'47-'97 11 22% 2 4%

Actually, any Cubs fan who has only been following the team during these past 10 seasons might have a hard time understanding why the Cubs are known as loveable losers, given their success.  The Kerry Wood era has arguably been the best span of Cubs seasons since the war, with the possible exception of the Leo Durocher era of 1966-1972, during which the club finished over .500 six consecutive times.

But Durocher, too, had his share of failures.  His 1966 Cubs team became the first ever to finish behind the expansion New York Mets, and still marks only the second time the Cubs have endured a triple-digit loss season.  His 1969 team became infamous for blowing a 10-game August 14th edge over those same New York Mets.  In 1972, the Cubs went just 46-44 (.511) before Durocher got fired, then finished 39-26 (.600) when rookie manager Whitey Lockman took over full time.  Indeed, there is some doubt as to how much of the Cubs' success over this period is due to the influence of The Lip.

With Wood, there is no doubt.  He was a huge contributor on the 1998 and the 2003 playoff squads, and a nice late-season boost for last year's iteration.  In fact, in each of the Cubs' five winning seasons since 1998, Wood has posted an ERA+ of 118 or higher.  In each of the five losing seasons, that ERA+ was 112 or lower (he did not play in 1999).

Is it fair to say that with Wood on the team, the Cubs have a 50% chance of a winning record, 30% chance of making the playoffs, and a guaranteed October berth if Wood pitches well?  Of course not.  But viewed next to the four-year, $19 million contract that Scott Linebrink received from Chicago's South Side team, a one-year, incentive laden contract to a homegrown talent who has been a major part of rejuvenating this North Side franchise looks like quite a bargain, not just a sentimental gesture.

If Wood enjoys a fabulous year as the Cubs' closer, would he remain loyal to Chicago, or would the native Texan be lured away by gregarious offers from the Rangers and the Astros?  And would the Cubs be willing to offer him a near market value long-term contract given Wood's injury history?

While Wood's future is quite uncertain, his present brings a smile to my face.  He reminds me of those 1998 Cubs, easily my favorite team of all time.  I occasionally get visions of Astros flailing haplessly at high curveballs that defy the laws of physics when I watch #34.  And he also reminds me how lucky I am to be a Cubs fan during this generation of competitive Cubs baseball. 

Thank you, for your part in that, Kerry.  Good luck this season. 




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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