End of an Era

The Kerry Wood era in Chicago apparently is over. Cubs General manager Jim Hendry made a two-pronged statement when he traded minor league pitching prospect Jose Ceda to the Florida Marlins for veteran right-handed reliever Kevin Gregg on Thursday.

"We feel really good about the acquisition of Kevin Gregg," Hendry told reporters on a conference call Thursday. "Obviously, he's a quality late-inning reliever and he brings a lot to the table in our continued pursuit to get better."

In virtually the same breath, Hendry said he told Wood and his agents that the Cubs would be going in a different direction with their closing situation. Wood, whom the Cubs drafted in 1995, came up in 1998, set the baseball world on fire with a 20-strikeout game that May and was the NL Rookie of the Year.

"We're just in a situation – as Kerry full understands – that that length of deal for the kind of salary that he would command right now is not our first priority," Hendry said.

"We certainly have to finish our rotation. We have offensive situations to address and by having the prominence that (Carlos) Marmol now brings to the table, it certainly doesn't come before the other needs that we have.

"We felt that it was time that Kerry goes out and does what's best for him and his family and gets a huge multi-year deal, if possible."

Wood battled elbow and shoulder problems over the years, but he came back in 2008 to convert 34 saves in 40 chances.

The crux of the problem is that the Cubs did not want to give Wood more than a one-year contract or a one-year deal with an option. But Wood probably can get a three- or a four-year deal on the open market, and Hendry said he didn't want other clubs to feel Wood simply would return to Chicago for a lesser deal, as he has in the past.

Behind the scenes, the Cubs are still skittish over Wood's health situation, which included time off for a finger blister this year.

"He's certainly done everything that this organization has asked in the last 14 years. He's been a warrior," Hendry said of Wood. "The last couple of years, he's come back and health-wise, he's stood the test of time taking the ball every day when needed and had no hang-up's except for his blister situation."

Hendry was not ready to say whether Gregg or Marmol would be the closer in 2009. Marmol was an ace setup man and an All-Star this year, and he saved seven games. Gregg had 29 saves and a 3.41 ERA for the Marlins this year, and he gives the Cubs an option either for the eighth or ninth inning.

"I don't know how it'll shake down," said Hendry. "That'll be up to Lou (Piniella) and Larry (Rothschild) who pitches what inning. We're not crowning people in certain roles in November."

Losing Ceda could hurt the Cubs on down the road. The hard-throwing right-hander, acquired at the trade deadline from San Diego in 2006 for INF Todd Walker, was considered one of the club's top pitching prospects and was 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 22 games (30 1/3 innings) in relief at Class AA Tennessee this season. He began the year at Class Advanced-A Daytona, where he had a 4.80 ERA in 15 appearances.

"The bottom line is that we're here to serve the major league club," Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said of losing Ceda. "But I'd be lying if I did not say that every trade is difficult because we get so close to the player and they become like an extended family."

Ceda was ranked the Cubs fourth best prospect by Baseball America entering 2008.


--Catcher Geovany Soto won the NL Rookie of the Year award this week, becoming the fifth Cub to do so. During a chat with reporters, Soto also revealed that the irritation in his left hand is still bothering him. Soto had problems with the hand, particularly while batting, at various times during the season. It flared up at the end of the season but did not keep him out of the playoffs. He said he is still taking painkillers and that he hopes the hand will be 100 percent by the middle of December.

--Piniella won the Manager of the Year Award, and more important for the Cubs, all of Piniella's coaching staff will be back for 2009. The most intriguing case is that of Rothschild, who has been with the Cubs since 2002, when Don Baylor was manager. Since then Rothschild has worked under interim manager Bruce Kimm (2002), Dusty Baker (2003-06) and Piniella.

Moreover, the Cubs wanted all of their coaches back. Piniella, who will be entering his third year with the Cubs, has been known to be impatient with both pitchers and pitching coaches. However, the pitchers like and respect Rothschild, and Piniella has given him a fair amount of leeway.

--OF Kosuke Fukudome is a good bet to platoon with Reed Johnson in center field in 2009, especially if Piniella gets his way. The Cubs are trying to obtain a power-hitting left-handed-swinging outfielder this offseason. Fukudome bats left-handed, and Johnson hits from the right side. Fukudome was a huge disappointment in the second half, forcing Hendry to scurry for offensive help this offseason.

--OF Tyler Colvin, the Cubs' first-round pick in the 2006 draft, will miss at least parts of the first half of the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Colvin batted .256 with 11 homers this year at Class AA Tennessee, and the Cubs feel the elbow affected his performance.

"Everything went well. (He is) in great spirits," Fleita said of Colvin last week. "He's already entered the rehab, and we've got a great track record now for rehabbing guys and not missing any of the target dates."

--C Henry Blanco, whose $3 million option was not picked up this fall, will get a lower offer from the Cubs. Blanco was a valuable backup to Soto, who frequently credited Blanco for helping him call games and handle pitchers. Interestingly, Blanco also singled out RHP Ryan Dempster for his help. Like Blanco, Dempster is a free agent, and there's no guarantee he'll be back, either.

Hendry said Thursday that contract negotiations with Dempster are ongoing.

--RHP Carlos Zambrano won his second Silver Slugger award as the top-hitting pitcher in the NL (he also won in 2006). Zambrano is the only Cubs pitcher to win a Silver Slugger. He batted .337 (28-for-83) with four homers, four doubles, one triple, 14 RBIs and a .554 slugging percentage this year.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: 1,407 -- Strikeouts Wood amassed in his career with the Cubs, beginning in 1998. That ranks third in club history behind Fergie Jenkins and Charlie Root.

HE SAID IT: "It felt like we got run over by a semi-truck. I was really, really, really disappointed." -- Piniella, on the Cubs getting swept out of the NL Division Series by the Dodgers.

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