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Cubs-Wood deal: What took so long?
How close did the new Cubs’ regime come to blowing what should have been a slam dunk signing of a team icon and dismiss an inexpensive chance to offer a rare gesture of good will to a fan base being asked to endure a nameless season of rebuilding in 2012?
“About 25 minutes,” Kerry Wood said.
That’s how little margin was left to get Friday’s $3-million, one-year deal done (plus a club option for the same price) as Wood said he waited for a call from another team to take a physical that would have meant agreeing with another team.
He wouldn’t identify the team. But he said that by the time talks with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer dragged two months into the new regime’s term without resolution, he’d changed his mind about retiring if not returning to the Cubs.
“I wasn’t ready to retire. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be forced into that,” he said. “I still love the game, and I have plenty left. That’s what I said [about being a Cub or quitting], but I think people are allowed to change their mind.”
Especially when they feel they’re not getting treated with respect. Wood played last year for a steep discount of $1.5 million after leaving multiyear offers on the table, because he wanted to return to the Cubs. He obviously wasn’t asking for much more this season in relative baseball-salary terms. And, unlike last year, the Cubs have plenty of payroll room as they refill vacated positions with discount options.
Wood didn’t badmouth the nature of negotiations with the Cubs but it wasn’t hard to read between the lines.
Several teams, including Philadelphia and Cincinnati, started getting involved, and Wood said he started resigning himself to the possibility of leaving.
“I was to that point where it was a definite possibility,” he said. “There was a week where I thought I was on four different teams in three days.”
Anywhere else for a deal anything close to the one he signed with the Cubs would have been a big public relations hit for the Epstein-Hoyer team while they’re already dealing with rising-star Starlin Castro’s rape allegations.
An hour or so before the manufactured drama of the Wood announcement during Cubs Convention opening ceremonies, Epstein talked about the foolishness of making baseball decisions based on emotions and fan-favorite – even team-icon – status.
“If you start making baseball decisions based on PR, you’re losing,” Epstein said, “whether you know it or not.”
That said, Epstein said he recognizes and appreciates Wood’s value as a clubhouse leader and example for younger players, even beyond his baseball value, calling Wood a guy “who gets it.”
But for a team exec in his first winter in a new city with a fan culture new to him, he got a lot more than that with Wood’s signing. Whether he knows it or not.