Cubs

Cubs wont be starstruck anymore

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Cubs wont be starstruck anymore

Perhaps this all ends Friday night, with everyone holding up a No. 34 jersey and flashbulbs popping inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom.

But its the middle of January and Kerry Wood is still a free agent. The 34-year-old reliever is being linked to contenders like the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels. Maybe its time to chase a ring.

This is an iconic player who came back at a discount and will always be identified with this city. Hes also someone who, by his very nature, is proud and competitive and likes to keep score.

Whatever happens, Wood remaining unsigned past Christmas and well into the New Year shows that Theo Epstein isnt going to be starstruck. A deadline of sorts appears to be this weekends Cubs Convention.

We continue to want Kerry back in Chicago, general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. Weve offered him a substantial raise and we certainly hope it gets done.

These executives are not worried about external pressure from the fans or media. They are not pretending that the team is one Prince Fielder megadeal away from the World Series. They are interested in value and walled off from sentiment, not particularly attached to this group of players.

This front office is playing the long game, which is why the Matt Garza trade rumors arent going away anytime soon. The signing of Paul Maholm became official on Tuesday and that represents another incremental move that wasnt made to sell tickets.

Maholm went 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA for a bad Pittsburgh Pirates team last year. He will receive 4.25 million this season, with a 6.5 million club option for 2013 (or a 500,000 buyout).

Maholm was shut down with shoulder soreness late last season, but described it as a pulled muscle, nothing major. He has been working with the training staff for Dr. James Andrews and expects to be good to go in spring training.

The Cubs now have six starters on paper: Garza, Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Chris Volstad and Travis Wood. Hoyer wouldnt comment on the Garza reports, but said that the Maholm deal is not a precursor to anything.

Garza and Wood are two big names that would fit in on any team built to win now. The Cubs are looking to make a splash in 2014 and beyond.

Thirteen months ago, Wood attended Ron Santos funeral and felt a pull back toward the Cubs and a place that felt like home.

Wood took a below-market deal one year at 1.5 million that was negotiated by Jim Hendry, the general manager at the time. Their relationship went back to the 1995 draft, when the Cubs took the kid out of Grand Prairie High School (Texas) with the fourth overall pick.

There was also an understanding with chairman Tom Ricketts that Wood would have a role within the organization after his playing career was over.

Near the end of last season, Wood said he would probably retire if he couldnt pitch for the Cubs in 2012. The reliever laughed when it was suggested that he just gave away all his leverage.

Wood and his family live in Chicago during the offseason. His wife, Sarah, grew up in the citys suburbs and together theyve launched a charitable foundation that will hold a fundraiser on Friday night at Harry Carays Tavern on Navy Pier.

Several Cubs players are scheduled to attend the event, along with Ricketts and Epstein, who has called re-signing Wood a priority. A new administration might have a different idea of what Wood is worth.

We come in with somewhat of a fresh set of eyes, Hoyer said. That doesnt diminish what people have done long before were here. We both understand the history of the organization and we understand which players mean a lot to the fans. Kerry is one of them (and) were aware of (that).

Fresh eyes are one thing, but that doesnt mean you sort of ignore the rich past that the Cubs have.

Late Monday night Maholm announced the deal on his personal Twitter account. The next morning he told the media on the conference call: I wasnt trying to scoop any of you guys. Decision time is coming again soon, so you might want to follow @KerryWood.

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks never shows emotion on the mound.

Never.

That's what made his simple gesture — mouthing the word "wow" — during Thursday night's 1-0 win over the Brewers so intriguing.

Albert Almora Jr. had just made a nice running catch on the warning track in dead center in the top of the sixth inning, yet another highlight-reel play from the young outfielder.

Hendricks thought it was an extra-base hit for Brewers leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain, but Almora turned it into Out No. 2 in the inning.

"I see the ball hit, I'm just hoping to keep it to a double at that point," Hendricks said. "And then when he reaches his glove up and catches it, yeah, it's an instant reaction. 

"You're not expecting that at all. I think I mouthed that over to [Tommy] La Stella at third base; he said the same thing. It was a hell of a catch. That's what he's been doing lately. It's fun to watch him out there."

Hendricks pitches so devoid of any emotion, he's even poked fun at himself by using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as his walk-up song.

His Cubs teammates — including Kyle Schwarber Thursday night — describe Hendricks as pitching with "no pulse out there." If you just watched his reactions and body language, you wouldn't know if he's throwing a no-hitter or getting shelled.

Hendricks also works quickly, always keeping his defense on his toes. He struck out only 5 batters in 7 shutout innings Thursday, so he needed to rely on his defense a bunch.

It wasn't just Almora that stepped up behind Hendricks. Javy Baez made a spectacular leaping grab and also turned a lightning-quick double play to get the Cubs out of a jam. And Anthony Rizzo did his usual work with a couple of nice plays the night after committing his first error in more than a calendar year (a Cubs record). 

Schwarber — who provided the only offense of the game with a lined shot into the Budweiser patio in right field — loves standing in left field and watching his teammates play defense.

"Everybody's talking about Almora," Schwarber said. "I saw that in High-A, the way that he goes after balls and he's able to get there. 

"It's just a lot of fun to watch him go out there and make those catches. And obviously Javy out there, too, just Javy being Javy."

The Cubs don't appear to be on a trajectory toward following in the footsteps of the 2016 team that played defense at a historic level, but they also proved in the series opener with the Brewers that they can still win with pitching and defense.

With the starting rotation looking more like themselves and the weather conditions getting back to normal, the defense can once again settle in as a strength of this team.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa once again terrorized the Padres for his sixth homer of 1998, coming as his last blast in the month of April.

Slammin' Sammy went deep in the first inning, a two-run shot off San Diego starter Joey Hamilton for 434 feet, his longest shot of the campaign to date. It staked the Cubs to an early lead they did not relinquish in a 3-1 victory.

Six down, 60 to go.

It's crazy to see how slow of a start Sosa got to a record-setting season, but I guess 20 homers in one month will get you back on track pretty quickly.

Fun fact: Kevin Tapani shut down a Padres lineup that included Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti and Greg Vaughn, holding San Diego to just one run in 8 innings. Rod Beck picked up his 8th save on the year.

Fun fact 2: The game took just over two hours (2:06) to complete, as both starting pitchers worked quickly and efficiently and each team made just one pitching change apiece.