One of the common critiques we get at Baseball Prospectus is that we
can seem overly negative towards baseball maangement. Part of that is our
crotchety nature–don’t ever leave an empty milk carton in Chris Kahrl’s
refrigerator–but part of it is that most teams are mismanaged to one
extent or another. Decisions are made that are costly, counterproductive
and, in many cases, inexplicable, and we’re all too eager to point out
mistakes when we see them.
When a team does something smart, though ,we should make that same effort
to praise the decision.
On Wednesday, Cubs’ manager Don Baylor was quoted as saying that Kerry
Wood, currently recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, would
probably not pitch in the majors until June. Wood recently made his
exhibition debut and had originally been slated to pitch in the first week
of April. Baylor’s decision came after the Cubs’ medical staff advised Wood
to slow down his rehabilitiation ,especially the use of breaking pitches.
Wood, obviously, was disappointed by the turn of events. Like most talented
young men, he’s eager to get back to competition and prove that he’s
healthy and able to perform at his established level. By reigning him in,
Baylor is putting Wood’s long-term health ahead of the short-term desires
of his ace and the immediate future of his team. In many ways, this is one
of the most selfless moves a manager has made in recent memory. Baylor
knows that an effective Wood could be worth a number of extra wins this
year, his first with the Cubs, and is willing to push that payoff back to
ensure that Wood returns as healthy as possible.
There is significant pressure on the organization to get Wood back in the
fold. The Cubs wrongly see themselves as contenders in the National League
Central, and look at Wood as a missing piece to October baseball. Wood is
popular in Chicago, and the fans are excited about his imminent return,
remembering the excitement he brought in 1998.
Additionally, this is probably the last year in which Wood will be a cheap
commodity. If he is healthy and pitches effectively, his arbitration rights
will force his salary into the low-to-mid seven figures. Part of Wood’s
value to the Cubs is lost once they cannot dictate his salary.
In the face of all that, Don Baylor stepped up today and put a halt to any
visions of Wood making a start on a cold April day at Wrigley, and we
commend him for that. Here’s hoping that he’ll show similar concern once
Wood does return, using him in a manner more responsible than Jim Riggleman
did in 1998 and ensuring that Cub fans and baseball fans will get to enjoy
Wood for a long time.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com.