Sunday, November 22, 2009

Coming full-circle with the Indians Kerry Wood

On a team like the Cleveland Indians, closer Kerry Wood is an extravagance. The Tribe is in the midst of a rebuild and carrying any player on your roster that makes $10.5 million doesn't make any sense, let alone one that pitches an inning every few days.

The rumors of Kerry Wood's demise (or being set free, if you prefer) have been rampant since the Indians season ended. With most rumors, there's really no substance behind it other than the fact that Cleveland is trying to cut payroll. Wood has an option year in 2011 worth a potential $11 million tacked on to the $10.5 million he's set to earn in 2010. The option year becomes vested if Wood can find a way to finish 55 games in 2010.

To put the 55 games into perspective, Wood pitched in 56 games last year and finished 50 of them. Granted, the Cleveland Indians didn't exactly give Wood an opportunity to pitch in an optimum amount of games. In 2008 with the Cubs, who made the playoffs that year, Wood pitched in 65 games, and finished 56 of those games. He also missed nearly a month because of an injury. Will the Indians give him an opportunity to finish 55 games next year? That's certainly debatable, but it's distinctly possible. Like Carl Pavano this past season, the Indians may try and deal Wood prior to meeting the vested option, but that's for later in our little discussion.

The real question here is whether or not the Indians should keep the 32-year-old fireballer. Wood finished with a 4.25 ERA and 20 saves. He was particularly effective in August and September with more regular work. The lefty only saved six games during this time period, and blew only one save. He gave up five earned runs, and saw his ERA drop a run. Unfortunately for Wood and the Indians, the club was busy losing most of those games, so Wood didn't get a chance to save many of them, coming in after the Indians were already done for. With work, Kerry Wood is a very good closer. Funny thing is, he's exactly what the Indians had been looking for prior to last year.

Of course, the Indians and the bullpen in front of Wood imploded, and his numbers likely suffered because of it. Now, this wheedled-down ball-club has no visible chance to do a lot of winning next year, and the pitching staff is in disarray. There's nothing above a #3 starter, and the #3's are inconsistent, as are all the Tribe pitchers. The bullpen was terrible last year, and even though there is a bunch of young hurlers that should be good, it will take some work. Then there's the anchor, Kerry Wood.

Losing Wood at this juncture could completely destabilize a bullpen struggling to find its identity. Placing Wood at the back-end for 2010 should give the Tribe the ability to allow the young arms to continue to find an identity, in particular with Tim Belcher and Scott Radinsky entering the fray as pitching and bullpen coach respectively. The Indians do have a group of potentially dominating relievers with the closer skill-set, but could be put in that set-up role. Tony Sipp, Chris Perez, Jess Todd, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez have all shown promise at one time or another. Perez is the aged member of this staff at 27, with Lewis, Sipp and Joe Smith coming in at 26. Perez and Todd, the newcomers in deals last year are both going to be 24. This could be a very good pen.

The irony of this line of thinking is that stabilizing the bullpen should improve Wood's numbers, which in turn, should make him a much more valuable commodity at the deadline. I still say that the Indians should really think long and hard before dealing the 6'5" hurler. Shapiro's goal was to win in 2011, and a vital piece of that puzzle will be a closer. Just what the Indians need, to get to 2011 and have to throw someone new into the fray at closer. Don't get me wrong, there are options both in the organization and out of it...but if Wood is doing the job, why mess around. Cleveland's done enough of that over the past 61 years, since the Indians and Lou Boudreau won the last World Series in Cleveland.

Of course, Wood would have to have a stellar season in 2010 for any of this to come to fruittion. The Indians would have to follow suit, and at least give a glimpse of having the potential to win in 2011. The Bullpen would have to line up nicely, and to do that, the Tribe would have to find some sort of semblance of a starting rotation. Even if all that happens, Cleveland will still likely try and find a suitor for Kerry Wood and his millions.

It's ironic, when you think about it. For years, the Indians needed starting pitching and a closer. Now that they are rebuilding, they are likely to deal two Cy Young award winners and a closer that throws 95+.

Back to square one...I suppose...

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