Ramirez, Wood Staying With Cubs

The Associated Press
Sunday, November 12, 2006; 5:45 PM

CHICAGO -- Aramis Ramirez decided to stay put. Coming off a career year at the plate, the third baseman gave up a chance to explore the free-agent market, agreeing Sunday to a $73 million, five-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.

On the first day free agents could negotiate money with all 30 teams, oft-injured pitcher Kerry Wood also opted to stay with the Cubs, agreeing to a $1.75 million, one-year deal that could be worth up to $6 million.

Ramirez, who initially joined the Cubs midway through the 2003 season in a trade with the Pirates, had opted out of the final two seasons of a $42 million, four-year contract and filed for free agency on Oct. 30. His new deal contains a mutual option for 2012.

"He proved to Chicago that when you leave $20 million or $30 million on the table, it's where you want to go," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Both sides gave a little bit at the end."

Ramirez set career highs last season for homers (38) and RBIs (119) and batted .291, thanks to a strong finish.

After a slow start, when the Cubs were struggling with star first baseman Derrek Lee was on the disabled list, Ramirez went on to bat .328 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs after the All-Star break. In his three-plus seasons with Chicago, Ramirez has hit .298 with 120 homers and 353 RBIs.

"When we spoke at the end of the year, I felt like he wanted to be back here," Hendry said. "Not only does he like it here, he has the faith we will get better."

The Cubs, who finished 66-96 and in last place in the National League, already have underdone a major overhaul in the six weeks since the season ended. They didn't renew manager Dusty Baker's contract, chief executive officer Andy MacPhail resigned and then Hendry hired Lou Piniella as his new manager.

Chicago also might like to re-sign center fielder Juan Pierre and backup catcher Henry Blanco and could be interested in a big-name free agent like Alfonso Soriano.

Wood, the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year, has been bothered by arm problems throughout his career. He made just four starts last season and has been rehabbing a torn rotator cuff.

Chicago had declined a $13.5 million option on Wood, opting instead to pay a $3 million buyout.

He struck out 20 Houston Astros in his fifth major league start. Now 29, Wood has a 71-55 record in 178 starts but because of injuries has never reached the level many expected. He missed the entire 1999 season after elbow ligament replacement surgery.

He will be converted to a relief pitcher _ he pitched out of the bullpen briefly in 2005 _ and his performance bonuses are based on games pitched, games finished and time on the 25-man roster.

Hendry said there was a "lot of action" on Wood, and he also accepted less money to return

"He threw last week. He's coming along very well. His arm is looking good," Hendry said. "It's a long way from spring training. But we're very encouraged on how he is throwing the ball."

Earlier in the week, the Cubs re-signed Wade Miller, agreeing to a $1.5 million, one-year deal that also includes incentives. Miller missed most of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery and made five starts. He will compete for a job in the rotation.

The three signings give the Cubs a jump-start headed into the general managers' meetings and a relief for Hendry, who doesn't have to fill what would been a major hole in the lineup if Ramirez had left.

"To go out and find someone who you know can hit 3-4-5 to take Aramis' place is no small task," Hendry said.

© 2006 The Associated Press