I applaud the Cleveland Indians for giving Kerry Wood a smart, two-year contract. Wood's signing seemed to be minor news in comparison to that K-Rod guy becoming a New York Met, but in the fantasy baseball world -- and the real world, for that matter -- Wood is far better value. Will anyone remember that come draft day in March?
Consider how these relief pitchers are generally viewed by the often gullible public. Francisco Rodriguez just set the record for most saves in a season, with an incomprehensible 62. Every season he's among that group of top closers who gets drafted too early. He has the fancy nickname, playoff success, and now he's on a signature team in a new ballpark, ready to save oh, let's say 45 games. That's right, he's not getting 62 again, you know.
Wood had a nice season, but the Cubbies didn't want him. He's injury prone, has one year under him as a closer, so he's bound to be the next Troy Percival and disappoint, right?
I don't agree. Wood was not only huge value for the Tribe, but he will be in fantasy baseball, too, because saves are saves. I'd take the under on Wood getting the same 45 saves I think Rodriguez can get, but then again, I imagine few expected Joe Borowski to ever lead the league in saves. He did it as a Cleveland Indian.
Wood stayed relatively healthy for the 2008 Cubs, saving 34 games and producing better numbers than most would think. He fanned 84 hitters, had a low 1.09 WHIP -- considerably better than K-Rod -- and held opposing hitters to a .219 batting average. Wood had a very good year, ranking eighth on our Player Rater for closers. The Cubs have fireballer Carlos Marmol ready to take over the role, so letting Wood go should be viewed in perspective, as a financial decision, an obvious opening to let a star-crossed player move on. In terms of performance, however, there were few questions.
The Indians had serious problems in their 2008 bullpen, but being able to place good pitchers in their proper roles before the pressure of the ninth inning will serve everyone well. Jensen Lewis didn't struggle as closer, but the Indians realized he didn't have the pedigree and wasn't the long-term answer. Consider him similar to what the AL champion Rays have in Dan Wheeler; if Wood were to need a disabled list stint, Lewis could find his way to replacement saves. If not, Lewis will work eighth innings with Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, making for a strong support system. And make no mistake, while the Indians disappointed all around in 2008, they were trouble for other teams in September, and only a year earlier were one victory from the World Series. This is a potential division winner. Wood will get save opportunities.
Risk of injury might always be there for Wood, but that comes with the territory for the hard-throwing Texan. Considering he isn't likely to command a top-100 draft pick in most fantasy leagues -- my last ranking of Wood in Relief Efforts had him at No. 13 -- he's a terrific value choice. Since I'm not one to ever spend a top-50 pick on a closer, let's just say I'm a lot more likely to end up with Cleveland's closer on my teams than New York's closer.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.