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Maddux signs with...

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MESA, Ariz. -- Welcome home, Greg Maddux.



You'll find Wrigley Field much as you left it, the wind blowing in and the ivy covering the walls. The Chicago Cubs are still playing most of their home games in the afternoons, and the bleachers remain the hottest ticket in town. As for Cubs fans, they're passionate and loyal, and boy, are they thrilled to have you back.




Maddux brought his career full circle Tuesday night when he decided to sign with the Cubs, the team that gave him his start in the majors. No official announcement was made, but a source close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Maddux agreed to a $24 million deal that could go as long as three years.



Cubs general manager Jim Hendry confirmed Wednesday that the Cubs have reached agreement in principal with Maddux, pending a physical.




The third year of the deal will be guaranteed if Maddux reaches certain criteria, including pitching a preset number of innings in 2005.






The deal is pending a physical, but the 37-year-old Maddux could be at camp as early as Wednesday, when Cubs pitchers and catchers report. Maddux, who spent the last 11 years with the Atlanta Braves, was the last major free agent to agree to a deal.




The addition of Maddux, who is just 11 wins shy of 300, gives the Cubs one of the strongest rotations in the game. He'll join Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano -- a foursome that took the Cubs within five outs of the World Series a year ago.




Maddux may not be the pitcher he was in his youth, but he is still one of the game's most effective ones. He went 16-11 with a 3.96 ERA last season -- his 16th straight year with at least 15 wins. He is second among active pitchers with 289 wins, 21 behind Roger Clemens.




He is 289-163 with a 2.89 ERA in his 18-year career.



Bringing Maddux back also goes along way toward soothing the angst of the Cubs faithful, who never forgave the team for letting him go in the first place. Maddux spent his first seven seasons in Chicago, going 95-75 and winning the first of his four straight Cy Young awards. But he left after the 1992 season in a money dispute and went to Atlanta, where he developed into one of the great pitchers of his era, a control freak who mixed speeds and locations.




He was 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA during his 11-year stint in Atlanta, setting an NL record for most consecutive innings without a walk and becoming the poster child for consistency with his streak of 15-win seasons.




He also helped make the Braves the dominant team in the NL. Atlanta won a division title every year he was there, as well as the 1995 World Series. The Cubs, meanwhile, wallowed in mediocrity -- or worse. They've had only five winning seasons since he left, and didn't make the playoffs again until 1998.




Going to a team that could win was believed to be high on Maddux's list of priorities, and he'll find the Cubs much different than what he's seen from afar these last few years. Dusty Baker brought a new attitude in his first season, and the Cubs responded with their first division title since 1989. They were on the verge of going to the World Series for the first time since 1945 until a meltdown against Florida in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Florida rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.




The Cubs should be even better this year. Hendry upgraded the bullpen, adding LaTroy Hawkins and Kent Mercker. He also traded for Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee, and bolstered the bench with Todd Walker and Todd Hollandsworth.



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