Kerry Wood passed up bigger deals from the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox to return to Wrigley Field. | Nick Laham~Getty Images
Updated: April 19, 2011 5:09AM
In a move that surprised even the Cubs, former staff ace and closer Kerry Wood agreed to sign with his original team for one year and $1.5 million, according to multiple sources.
Wood, 33, passed a team physical Thursday, and the signing is expected to be announced today.
In taking the below-market deal to return to the team that drafted him fourth overall in 1995, the hard-throwing right-hander joins a potentially formidable back end of a bullpen that also includes closer Carlos Marmol and lefty setup man Sean Marshall.
It also allows the Cubs to look at young right-hander Andrew Cashner — the former first-rounder who exceled as a late-season rookie setup man last summer — as a potential starter heading into spring training.
As recently as last week, team officials expected Wood to take a more lucrative, multiyear offer from either the New York Yankees — with whom he finished last season — or the Boston Red Sox.
Wood also considered a one-year, $3.5 million offer from the White Sox before following his heart back to the North Side, where he maintains strong relationships with Cubs front-office personnel and several former teammates still with the club.
Cubs insiders consider the move a major coup in an offseason limited by payroll cuts despite several specific needs. The affordability of the Wood contract — on the heels of last week’s signing of first baseman Carlos Pena for a $10 million deal that includes half deferred to 2012 — leaves the team enough flexibility to follow through on plans to add a modestly priced starting pitcher through free agency or trade.
The Cubs might not be done adding to the bullpen depth, which could be significant considering Wood has been on the disabled list 14 times in 13 seasons (albeit, with nothing involving his arm since his successful 2007 comeback from shoulder problems as a reinvented reliever).
Wood, whose 20-strikeout game as a rookie in 1998 is considered among the top highlights of the storied franchise, spent the first 11 years of his career with the Cubs — as both an All-Star starter and later an All-Star closer — before signing a two-year, $20 million free agent deal with Cleveland before the 2009 season.
Wood said at the time that he never wanted to leave the organization. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry also spoke highly of his relationship with Wood and a desire to keep the pitcher, but the budget-restricted Cubs didn’t have the flexibility to make a fair-market offer.
Wood, who was traded to the Yankees last summer, went 3-4 with eight saves and a 3.13 ERA last season, including 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 26 setup innings with the Yankees after the trade.