A contrarian’s view on Kerry Wood

The annual Cubs Convention started today in Chicago, and the team made a big splash by signing (re-upping, really) Kerry Wood for a one year, $3 million deal for 2012. There’s a club option for another year, not a player option like the kind Ryan Dempster was given, so at least that’s progress. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a large part of the club option depends on whether he goes on the DL at some point during the season. I certainly don’t want this to happen, but his track record (I think he averages more than one trip to the DL a season) suggests it should be anticipated in some way.

From what I gathered on Twitter, the Wood signing set off waves of cheering at the convention. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why. I am as emotionally attached to Kerry Wood as any other Cubs fan, and I want to see him along for the ride when the Cubs finally do go all the way. But there’s no evidence to suggest that will happen.

Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in a nine-inning game, an amazing feat that will be talked about for decades to come. But it happened in 1998, more than a dozen seasons ago. And in the intervening years, Wood has piled up both strikeouts and wear and tear on his arm. With more than a dozen trips to the DL under his belt, it seems prudent to assume that these ways will continue into 2012. My rosy-colored glasses, such as they are, can’t imagine Kerry Wood going a full season without some time being missed.

And, more importantly than that, the Cubs have been talking at length about their new way–the “Cubs Way”– going forward as a franchise. It’s what allowed Dale Sveum to get the manager’s job over long-time Cub favorite Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg’s going to be managing against the Cubs someday, all because of the prevailing sense of a new way of doing things as a franchise.

The Wood signing departs from this new feeling in a big way. It’s like busting out the old REM albums on vinyl, just to see if they’ll still sound as good as they once did. It feels good to do it–it feels comfortable more than anything else–but it ultimately doesn’t get you to where you need to go. Where you’re dying to go, even.

Theo Epstein has said that the Cubs will be paying for future performance, rather than for past performance as they have done over the past few years. So is $3 million for a middle reliever/set-up man worth it? I guess that will determine whether or not the club option is picked up next year.

Lastly, I know it’s painful to bring this up, but Wood’s postseason performances have been spotty over the years. He was great for the Yankees in 2010, so perhaps we’ll get that again. But the 2003 NLCS saw Kerry Wood lose the decisive Game seven, and nearly lose Game three in that series as well. Many years ago, to be sure, but all there is to go on, as well.

I’ve said before that the veteran leadership on a team–which Wood will certainly be called on to provide–needs to have past World Series champions somewhere in the mix. The Cubs didn’t have any such players before re-signing Wood, and they still don’t have any now. I hope this won’t be an issue, but the answer won’t be known for a few months, at least.

First, last, and always, I want the Cubs to succeed. But I’m honestly having a hard time seeing how this signing fits into it. It feels good on an emotional level, but that needs to be translated into results on the field, as well.

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