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12/10/08 1:13 PM EST
Indians close to deal with closer Wood
Offer to ex-Cubs fireballer includes option for third season
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
LAS VEGAS -- The Indians appear to have filled their hole at closer during these Winter Meetings. But they're not talking about it.
MLB.com has learned that the Indians are on the verge of signing free-agent right-hander Kerry Wood to a two-year contract with an option for a third year. Multiple sources confirmed the deal will probably be consummated in the next few days. The exact financial terms being discussed were not immediately known, but reports indicate the two-year guarantee might be worth $20 million total.
The 31-year-old Wood, once a starting phenom, is coming off an '08 season with the Cubs that was his first in the closer's role. He went 5-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 34 saves in 40 chances over 65 appearances, striking out 84 batters and walking 18 in 66 1/3 innings.
Signing Wood would mean the Indians would push 24-year-old Jensen Lewis, who saved 13 games in as many opportunities down the stretch in '08, back into a setup role, joining left-hander Rafael Perez.
General manager Mark Shapiro would not comment directly on the matter, instead falling back on the Indians' long-standing policy of holding off on such comment until deals are 100 percent complete.
"Nothing constructive comes out of commenting on negotiations," Shapiro said. "The one thing I will do is confirm that we have interest in guys. Kerry Wood is one of a number of guys we are interested in. As far as completion and numbers, I'm not going to comment on anything until the completion of a deal. It's not constructive to the process."
Wood's agent, Pat Rooney, is also not confirming the deal.
The process of signing Wood escalated here at the Bellagio, where Shapiro met with Rooney on Monday. The Mets' agreement with Francisco Rodriguez on a three-year, $37 million contract has picked up the pace in the closer's market, which is the one area of the free-agent pool that is actually saturated with talent.
Wood, of course, is relatively new to this whole closing thing. The Irving, Texas, native, burst onto the big league scene as a 20-year-old starter in 1998, striking out 20 Astros in just his fifth Major League start. He went on to strike out more than 200 batters in four seasons from 1998-2003.
But a long list of arm injuries, including Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 1999 and right shoulder surgery in 2005, plagued Wood's starting career. As far as that medical history is concerned, the Indians do their due diligence on all potential signings, and that would certainly be the case with Wood.
"Any guy that we consider, there will be two steps -- medical due diligence and a physical," Shapiro said.
Wood converted to full-time relief work in 2007 and sparked the Cubs down the stretch that season, going 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 22 appearances out of the bullpen. He then signed a one-year deal with the Cubs for '08 and won the closer's job in Spring Training.
A blister on Wood's right index finger landed him on the 15-day disabled list last season, but, aside from that, he stayed healthy and was named to the National League All-Star team. He has said his body responded well to the everyday grind of relief work, rather than the every-five-days routine that comes with being a starter.
Wood was seeking a three-year contract with the Cubs, though it was believed he might accept an arbitration offer from the team. When the Cubs, who plan to give their closer's job to Carlos Marmol, acquired Kevin Gregg from the Marlins last month, they no longer had a need for Wood, so they did not offer him arbitration. That could be another key factor in the Indians' increased interest in Wood in recent days, as the Tribe would not have to surrender a Draft pick to the Cubs to sign Wood.
Wood has a 10.39 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark for his career. The Indians haven't had a shutdown closer of his variety since the days of Jose Mesa, so this would certainly be an intriguing addition to a club in clear need of relief help.
Brian Fuentes and Trevor Hoffman were among the other Tribe targets for the closer's job. The division-rival Tigers had also been talking to Wood.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.