On Thursday, the team traded Minor League pitcher Jose Ceda to the Florida Marlins for reliever Kevin Gregg, but also gave notice that they are not expected to re-sign Wood, who is a free agent.
"I don't think we could do for [Wood] right now what he deserves and what he'll get by going elsewhere," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
Wood's career began in 1998, when he burst onto the scene with a 20-strikeout game in his fifth start. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award that season, won 14 games in 2003, but was switched to a relief role to ease some of the strain on his right shoulder. This year, he was named to the National League All-Star team and completed 34 of 40 save situations.
Wood will be a hot item on the market while the Cubs address other needs.
"We're just in a situation that Kerry fully understands, and it's that the length of a deal for the kind of salary he would command right now is not our first priority," Hendry said. "We certainly have to finish our rotation. We have offensive situations to address. By having the prominence that [Carlos] Marmol now brings to the table, it certainly doesn't come before the other needs that we have.
"We felt it was time that Kerry goes out and does what's best for him and his family and gets a huge multi-year deal if possible. At the same time, the Kevin Gregg situation came up in the last four, five days. We felt it was something we couldn't pass up on."
Marmol becomes the leading candidate to take over the closer duties in 2009, while Gregg, who was 7-8 with 29 saves for the Marlins, will be used as a setup pitcher and part-time closer.
The addition of Gregg also gives young pitchers like Jeff Samardzija and Kevin Hart a chance to develop. Both could be used either in the bullpen or develop as starters, depending on what the team needs, Hendry said.
Wood has been the one constant on the Cubs and is the only one to have played on four postseason teams, doing so in 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008. He has a career 77-61 record, 3.65 ERA and 1,407 strikeouts.
He showed his durability this year by pitching on no days' rest in 19 games and compiling a 2.45 ERA with 13 saves.
"I think everyone who knows us knows how we all feel about 'Woody,'" Hendry said. "I don't think I've ever had a longer or more special relationship with anyone in professional baseball. 'Woody' will always be a Cub. If he finishes his career elsewhere, he'll always be welcome to be employed here, be an active Cub for life and take part in any fashion he wants to."
Hendry said the Cubs payroll will go up slightly in 2009, but added that "at the same time, you can't keep going with long-term, high-level deals for everyone, and you eventually have to pick and choose in the order you feel is most important." Having Marmol already in the mix, the Cubs' first priority will be finishing the rotation and putting some left-handed hitting on the field, Hendry said.
Hendry met this past weekend with Wood's representatives and explained the situation.
"What Kerry understands is by making a trade like this, it only helps him," Hendry said. "There are a lot of teams in baseball who always thought no matter what their offer was, Kerry would go back to the Cubs. I think this gives him the opportunity to maximize his ability to get a great deal that he deserves elsewhere."
Is Marmol ready? The right-hander is coming off a stellar season in which he was named to the NL All-Star team and collected a franchise-record 30 holds.
"I think Marmol's certainly ready to pitch in the ninth inning, no doubt about it, and so is Kevin Gregg," Hendry said. "I think we've given Lou [Piniella] and [pitching coach] Larry Rothschild two options who can pitch late in the game."
Gregg, who underwent what he called a "maintenance" type surgery on his knee this offseason, said he was ecstatic about the trade.
"It's one of those teams, I've always said I've wanted to play there and play for the Cubs," Gregg said. "I can't say enough about the organization and the atmosphere there."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.