Daily Herald
Feeling right at home, Wood stays with Cubs
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/27/2007 12:04 AM

Kerry Wood made it quite simple.

"Chicago's my home," he said Monday. "That's where I want to be. That's where I call home. It's a pretty easy decision.

"It's a little tougher than it's been in the past. Obviously, we had some more interest, which is nice. But Chicago's been great to me. It's the place where I want to stay and win."

Wood and the Cubs made sure that would happen, at least for 2008, when they agreed to a one-year contract worth $4.2 million plus incentives that could add another $3.45 million to Wood's deal based on the number of games he finishes.

That made the next question a natural: Do the Cubs and Wood see him as the team's closer?

"We wanted to bring him back," said general manager Jim Hendry, who joined the Cubs in 1995 along with Wood, the organization's top draft pick that year.

"The one thing Kerry hasn't that done that would be conducive to pitching in the ninth all the time is to pitch three days in a row. The people who are doing the best job are going to pitch late in the game."

In other words, Wood is in the mix to be the closer along with Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol. The closer's job became open this fall when the team announced Ryan Dempster would move to the starting rotation after saving 87 games since 2004.

"It always sorts itself out," Hendry said. "To try to pin somebody down that this is their role today, that's foolish. I think last year, Marmol was about in the second group (sent) out in camp because he didn't throw well early in camp, and he turned out being as valuable a guy as anybody we had. You don't have to worry about Woody taking his place in any role and succeeding as long as he's healthy."

The 30-year-old Wood proclaimed himself healthy once and for all Monday as he reflected on a 2007 season in which he went 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 22 relief appearances.

The erstwhile ace of the starting staff made a successful and nonsurgical rehab of a partially torn right rotator cuff, returning to action Aug. 5. In 24½ innings, Wood struck out 24 and walked 13.

Wood said he'd relish the job of closer if it comes his way. Most likely, field manager Lou Piniella will let things sort out over the first few weeks of the season before settling on one guy.

"Anybody that plays this game wants to be in that position," Wood said. "If you're playing short(stop), you want the ball hit to you to make the last out of the game. You want to be in that role. It's not an easy job. We saw Dempster get, I think, too much criticism last year.

"It's a rewarding job. You definitely know that when you're in the game, the game's on the line."

Wood said he was surprised by the attention he received from other clubs in the free-agent market but said no other dollar offers were forthcoming.

"I knew I would get interest from a team or two, but I wasn't expecting to get as much interest as I got," he said. "It's flattering. It shows that the hard work paid off. Chicago's my home. Chicago's been great to me. There's no better place to play than Chicago, especially if you're winning."

Hendry will head to Nashville on Sunday as baseball's winter meetings get under way. The GM said he'd like to add a left-handed hitting right fielder. The No. 1 target still appears to be Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome, who has yet to declare whether he will hit the market in North America.

Free-agent second baseman Kaz Matsui, a switch hitter who helped Colorado to the World Series this year, is said to be on vacation and still weighing offers among the Cubs, Astros and Rockies.

It appears the Cubs have not made a decision yet on whether to offer pitcher Mark Prior a contract for 2008. Prior, who is arbitration eligible, missed 2007 after having shoulder surgery in April. The Cubs would like to agree on something less than the $3.575 million Prior made last year.

As a five-plus year player, Prior cannot have his salary cut any more than 20 percent if the Cubs tender him a contract. It's possible the two sides could agree to a "non-tender" and then agree on a contract that calls for more than a 20 percent cut.

• Expect center fielder Sam Fuld to be named the Most Valuable Player of the Arizona Fall League during the winter meetings.

Fuld, who played in six games with the Cubs this year, batted .402 with 3 homers and an on-base percentage of .492 in the Fall League. It's possible he could push Felix Pie for the center-field spot during the spring or stick as a backup.