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Maddux: Decision was a 'no-brainer'

MESA, Ariz. -- Greg Maddux had some very specific requirements when he went job-hunting for the first time in more than a decade.

He wanted to win, and not just this year. His new team had to be
committed to winning over the long haul, just as the Atlanta Braves
were when he was there. He wanted to feel comfortable, with both
his teammates and the coaching staff. Most importantly, he wanted a
good fit for him and his family.

Well, Maddux got exactly what he wanted. In what once would have been the most unlikeliest of places, no less.

"Once I saw the choices in front of me, it was pretty much a
no-brainer," Maddux said Wednesday after signing a $15 million,
two-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, his original team. The deal has an optional third year worth $9 million.

"I knew this was one of the places I wanted to play. There were
very few places I wanted to play and this has always been one of
them. It felt right."

Few could ever have imagined that Maddux would say those words, much less be putting on a Cubs uniform again, after his messy
departure in 1992. Despite winning the first of his four NL Cy
Young Awards in Chicago, the Cubs cut Maddux loose in a money
dispute. Maddux went on to Atlanta, where he became one of the best
pitchers of his generation. The Cubs wallowed in mediocrity or
worse.

But the Cubs are no longer baseball's lovable losers, and
Maddux's return is proof of that. Chicago's payroll will be close
to $90 million to start the year, putting the Cubs at or near the
top of the National League.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry had already spent some serious cash before Christmas, signing LaTroy Hawkins, Todd Hollandsworth and Todd Walker, and he wasn't sure if he had the money to go after Maddux. But he approached the right-hander, anyway.

"Maybe I was dreaming," Hendry said. "But if you don't try,
you don't find out."

Hendry made an initial offer in January, and increased it
Saturday. The Cubs will pay Maddux $6 million this year, and $9
million each of the next two seasons. But the Cubs can void the
final year of the deal -- with no buyout -- if Maddux doesn't pitch
400 innings over this season and next.

Maddux has failed to reach 200 innings just twice in his career:
in 1987, his first full season in the majors, and in 2002, when he
pitched 199 innings.

"I was a little bit crushed when they booted me out 11 years
ago," Maddux said. "Now it's a whole new regime. I'm honored to
be back."

Maddux will have the chance to earn his 300th career win while
wearing a Cubs uniform, needing only 11 more victories to reach the
historic mark. But his homecoming is more than just a
warm-and-fuzzy reunion. The Cubs already had one of the NL's best
rotations in Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano -- a foursome that took Chicago within five outs of the
World Series a year ago.

Add Maddux to that mix, and the Cubs' rotation has to be
considered one of, if not the best in the game.

"What makes it so good is it's so deep," Maddux said. "It's
not just one or two guys and three OK guys. It's five solid
pitchers. When you can go that deep, you have a chance to win every
day. That's something special."

Maddux, who turns 38 in April, may not be the same pitcher he
was in his youth, but he's still one of baseball's best. Despite a
slow start, he was 16-11 with a 3.96 ERA last season, his 16th
straight year with at least 15 wins. His 289 wins are second to
Roger Clemens among active pitchers.

In his 18-year career, he's 289-163 with a 2.89 ERA.

And Maddux can help the Cubs with more than his arm. He's one of
the most savvy pitchers in baseball, with an almost encyclopedic
knowledge of hitters. Spend time around him, and that knowledge
can't help but rub off.

"If you watch the guy, you're going to learn from him," said
bench coach Dick Pole, who was the pitching coach in Maddux's first
stint with the Cubs. "They're all bright kids. They're going to
watch what he does, and I think they'll pick up stuff from him."

Maddux doesn't know his young teammates very well yet, having
only seen them a few times when the Braves played the Cubs. But he
considers Wood and Prior to be the two best pitchers in the game,
with the ability to go out and do something spectacular every time
they take the mound.

It reminds him of when John Smoltz was starting for the Braves,
and Maddux is looking forward to watching them on a regular basis.
Just another reason he came back to Chicago all these years later.

"I wasn't ready to leave the first time," Maddux said. "It's
nice to have an opportunity to come back. Hopefully I'll only have
to wear two hats in my career. That would be something special."