Thursday, March 10, 2005

kerry's worth

kerry wood cemented a place in cub lore on a dreary may day in 1998 when he fanned 20 in one of the most dominating pitching performances i've ever seen. perhaps it wasn't fair to the kid, to tag him with expectation following that start -- which was just the fifth of his career, as i recall. but the improbable summer of 1998 only added golden lustre to that single day, and the rookie fireballer finished 13-6 with 233 K in just 166.2 innings. wood became an obvious cornerstone.

but somewhere along the way, expectation met with reality -- and faltered. 1999 was a lost year for wood, and periodic arm problems since have taught cub fans to keep wood at arm's length. still posessed of a remarkable talent, wood remains an intimidating starter. but inexplicable rough patches continue to haunt him, when his control leaves him flailing on the mound.

now no longer young at 28, wood was pulled out of his spring start yesterday with shoulder tightness, ringing a familiar alarm bell for a pitcher who has made as many as 30 starts just twice in his seven big-league years.

some in the blogosphere point to gratification delayed -- and i can hope for that as well. but, until that hope materializes (or doesn't), we are left to rely on the pitcher we have.

and the golden lustre of that pitcher is gone. in truth, wood best compares at this point of his career to names like chan ho park and wilson alvarez. where peers like tim hudson have become consistently dominating and younger players like mark mulder and johan santana are reaping glory and awards, wood remains enigmatic -- never having won more than 14 in a season despite dominating stuff and maddening glimpses of untouchability.

does that mean that wood is worthless? certainly not; his health remains fundamental to any chance of success in 2005. but a realist with an eye to the future should view a pitcher like wood with a certain amount of antipathy, understanding that for all his promise he may never be any better than he's been -- indeed, that his career may not be very long at all. is it wise to make a long-term building block out of a player like wood? would a good year be a spur to rekindled hope or a reason to move him while his value is high?

i don't claim to know. but it seems increasingly clear to me that wood is unlikely to be the dependable ace that he once appeared certain to become.

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