According to manager Lou Piniella, there's a three-way race for the closer job in Chicago between Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood and Bobby Howry. At this point, Piniella hasn't tipped his hand too much, and most pundits believe that Marmol, who had an ungodly strikeout rate late year, has yet to be scored on this spring and who struck out the side today, will win the job. Marmol's been drafted earlier in every league I've been in, and Wood, despite pitching a scoreless inning today, is sporting a 5.20 ERA this spring.
But I think Wood is the savvier play at this point because he'll come cheaper, and as long as he holds up and pitches well, there are several reasons to think he'll win the job:
(1) It's a great comeback story, one that could inspire a team that has seen its two great pitching phenoms fall apart over the last several years (Mark Prior is trying to come back with the Padres sometime in April). To have Wood pitch well in a prominent role would salvage some of that lost promise.
(2) Wood, unlike Marmol, is a veteran, and so he's got seniority - first dibs on the more prominent role if it's close. (Bobby Howry actually has the most closing experience of the three, and is also a vet, but his early season struggles last year and his bad spring, in my opinion, make him a distant third).
(3) Wood touched 98 mph on the gun earlier this spring and is feeling healthy.
(4) Marmol's 2007 numbers were aided by a low hit rate and an especially low home run rate. Like Howry he gives up too many fly balls, and he walks too many batters.
(5) The only reason not to anoint Marmol the closer right now is to wait and see how Wood holds up and how his command is. Wood is really the only unknown in the equation - Howry is who he is, and Marmol is a fireballer with unhittable stuff - when he can locate it. Wood's health, command and ability to pitch on back to back days is unknown. Why else wait to name the closer unless they were waiting on Wood?
(6) Wood has the right demeanor to be a closer. He's a big, tough, competitive pitcher that comes after hitters.
(7) If Wood does get the job and gets hurt or fails, it's not the end of the world - they can just plug in Marmol at that point, i.e., the downside of trying Wood out is fairly minimal.
I'm not saying Wood will definitely be the guy - but I do think that if he pitches well over the next 10 days and shows he's completely healthy, the Cubs would be inclined to give him the first shot. And given where the two players are going in drafts, I'd rather invest in Wood over Marmol.