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03/09/10 3:31 PM ET
Wood not dwelling on trade speculation
Injury to Twins' Nathan could heat up talk for Tribe closer
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The trade speculation expected to hound Kerry Wood all season has already heated up, and we're not even a week into the Indians' exhibition schedule. The news that All-Star Twins closer Joe Nathan is facing potential season-ending surgery to repair a tear in his elbow ligament could have potential implications on the Indians, and not just because they compete with the Twins in the American League Central. Wood and his $11.5 million contract for this season don't exactly mesh with the Tribe's trim payroll and young, developing roster. Furthermore, the Indians would clearly rather not see Wood's 2011 option, worth $11 million, vest on their watch. It vests if Wood finishes 55 games this season. So, are the Twins, who are opening up a new ballpark in 2010 and firmly expecting to contend for the Central crown, a perfect potential trading partner for the Tribe? Only if they have the financial wherewithal to absorb all or most of Wood's contract, and that seems doubtful. But the early Twins speculation that became a topic of conversation Tuesday could set the tone for a few months' worth of Wood watching. The 32-year-old Wood is not oblivious to his place in the rumor mill, but he's not paying much attention to it, either. "I've never dealt with [trade speculation] before, and I don't want that to change," Wood said. "I don't want to deal with it. I'll go out and get ready to go every day. And every time I get a chance to save a game, I'll go out and do my job." Doing that job proved difficult for Wood last season. That was partially his own fault and partially the fault of his supporting cast. Signed to be the dominant back-end arm the Indians were lacking, Wood was given just 26 save opportunities. That goes a long way toward pointing out how the wheels fell off for the Indians last season. Wood battled his own issues in trying to get his slider working for him. But the lack of consistency in his workload obviously didn't help matters. For the season, he was 3-3 with a 4.25 ERA, 20 saves, 63 strikeouts and 28 walks in 55 innings over 58 appearances."Last year was my second year [closing], and it's still a learning process," he said. "I learned some things last year and threw the ball better in the second half, when I had a more consistent workload. If you don't learn from every experience, you're not getting better. I learned some things about myself about how to stay focused and stay ready. We'll take that into this year and see if we can change some of the outcomes from last year." When the '09 season ended, Wood was told to expect to be in an Indians uniform on Opening Day 2010. Though he signed to be part of a contender, not a developing ballclub, Wood did not demand a trade, and the winter market would have made those demands difficult to meet, anyway. The free-agent market was saturated with closer candidates, which made Wood's contract details all the more unmovable. But the season has a way of changing things. Whether it's an injury like the one suffered by Nathan or unforeseen areas of need as the year evolves, contending teams get a little more desperate for help. How desperate are the Twins right now? That remains to be seen. Nathan is expected to rest the injury for two or three weeks, then try to pitch with it. If he can't, he'll undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, and the level of desperation on the Twins' part could rise considerably. Alas, desperation is one thing, and financial flexibility is quite another. The Twins already have a projected Opening Day payroll of nearly $100 million. That includes an $11.25 million commitment to Nathan. It's hard to imagine them latching on with Wood at this juncture, but consider them a team worth tracking in this area as the season evolves. Wood, meanwhile, will continue to go about his business of putting '09 behind him and trying to be the reliable ninth-inning option the Indians signed up for. To Wood's credit, the rampant changes made around him and the Indians' shift in focus from contention to development haven't changed his demeanor or his approach. He seems to have taken well to the role of lending a helping hand to the youngsters surrounding him in the Tribe bullpen. "My job is to go out and do my job and let everybody else kind of see how I go about doing it," he said. "We have 25 guys who go about their business the right way. It's going to definitely be a group effort." And Wood will remain a part of that group until a contending club gets desperate enough to absorb a decent chunk of his salary.
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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.