Count on the Cubs taking care of Kerry Wood after the iconic right-hander's one-year, bargain-basement deal he signed Friday expires - and also once his pitching career is over.
General manager Jim Hendry will have a lot more financial flexibility in his 2012 payroll to work with, and chairman Tom Ricketts seems fully behind keeping Wood in the Cubs' fold after meeting Wood on Monday and all but closing the deal that may have cost Wood $10 million in guaranteed money left on the table in offers by other teams.
Meanwhile, what Wood's willingness to accept a $1.5-million deal has done for the Cubs is keep a winter of creative financing alive through the pursuit of a desired starting pitcher - if not an additional middle-bullpen reliever as well.
Considering Hendry had less than $10 million of projected payroll room to work with when the off-season began, it's already an upset that he landed the free agent first baseman he wanted (Carlos Pena for a back-loaded $10 million deal) and a reliever he rightfully assumed was so far beyond economic reach he had no intention of insulting him with what the Cubs could offer.
Wood had to approach Hendry - and largely by accident of their attendance at Ron Santo's wake and funeral last week - to even get the conversation started.
``God bless No. 10,'' Hendry said of Santo. ``I think in his own great way, he had something to do with this. ... Nobody loved Kerry Wood more than Ron Santo.''
It may take similar divine intervention to get enough of the Cubs' 2011 questions answered in a way that leads them back to the top of the division from fifth place.
But with Wood falling into their laps for the price he accepted, their cash-limited off-season remains amazingly, mathematically alive.
A big part of that is also due to the structure of Pena's contract, which puts $5 million (due in 13 months) on the 2012 books and $2 million (signing bonus paid this month) on the 2010 books - leaving only $3 million to go on the Cubs' accounting for 2011.
What Wood's deal to be Carlos Marmol's setup man following in quick succession means for the Cubs now:
For starters, second-year right-hander Andrew Cashner is freed up to get a chance to be an impact starting pitcher - with a worst-case scenario leaving him as a potential impact reliever in a stronger bullpen.
It also means Hendry retains some financial room to maneuver for a starting pitcher -either through free agency or trade.
If he takes the free agent route, it could mean one of a handful of injury-rehab pitchers on the market, such as Brandon Webb. The Cubs have looked long and hard at Webb's medical condition and are in no hurry to sign him.
Some reports suggest Webb, the 2007 NL Cy Young winner who hasn't pitched since Opening Day 2009 because of his shoulder injury, wants to make a decision quickly. If that's the case, count the Cubs out.
The Cubs do feel they have enough depth to be legitimate players in the trade market, both on their big-league staff (arbitration-eligible lefty starter Tom Gorzelanny, who could command between $2 million and $3 million, is drawing some interest and could be traded) as well as their minor-league system, though some prospects are considered virtually untouchable (read pitcher Chris Archer and outfielder Brett Jackson for instance).
Don't count on the Cubs landing Tampa Bay's Matt Garza in a trade, however. Sources suggest the asking price is too steep, and without moving another contract (at least in the Gorzelanny range), Garza's projected arbitration payday ($5 million range?) could be too high.
And speaking of trades, all those rumors and speculation about the Yankees going after Carlos Zambrano are the stuff of smoke and fantasy. The Yankees haven't asked. The Cubs haven't shopped Zambrano. And the pitcher has shown no desire to move off his most recent stance of planning to use his no-trade clause to stay in Chicago.
(And don't discount the influence of new Yanks' pitching coach Larry Rothschild to temper any New York excitement about pursuing the Big Z.)