Why the Cubs Were Probably Wise to Let Travis Wood Start the Season at AAA

Travis Wood has been the Cubs’ best starting pitcher in June, and, if Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are soon dealt – and Jeff Samardzija continues to slump – Wood could soon be the Cubs’  best starting pitcher period.

That’s a simultaneously scary and encouraging thought, given that the 24-year-old couldn’t even make the Cubs’ rotation out of Spring Training.

In Mesa Wood was wild and hittable, and he quickly fell out of a rotation competition that saw what could have been his spot go to Chris Volstad. Wood instead went to AAA Iowa to keep working, and waiting for a chance.

Now Volstad is in Iowa putting in work, and Wood is highlighting the Cubs’ rotation. Wood currently sports a 2.27 ERA over his five June starts, and he looks mighty effective every time out.

So, some people wonder, did the Cubs screw up by starting the year with Wood in the minors, rather than the rotation?

Eh. I can think of at least two reasons you can’t really call it a screw up.

First, we don’t know that Wood would be throwing quite this well without that time in Iowa. Indeed, both the Cubs’ staff and Travis Wood, himself, say that starting the year at AAA Iowa was probably the best thing for the lefty after a rough Spring Training.

“The time down there was actually very useful,” Wood said of his time with Iowa, according to Bruce Levine. “I worked on things I needed to and was able to iron some things out.” Now that he’s pitching so well with the big club, it’s easy to look back on all of those Chris Volstad losses and wonder what might have been, but that’s a dangerous game. We don’t know if Wood might have struggled (perhaps even wrecked his confidence) had he started the year on the big club.

The second reason I’m not sure it was a screw up to leave Wood down to start the year? Everyone’s favorite dirty little secret: service time.

No one talks about it with Wood, but, just like with Anthony Rizzo, keeping Wood down to start the year bought the Cubs another year of control over Wood. He came into the year with one year and 39 days of service time. By my quick calculations, because the Cubs kept him down until late May (save for a one day call-up in early May), he won’t quite reach two full years of service time by the end of this season, assuming he stays up the rest of the way. That means he won’t quite reach six full years of service time by the end of the 2016 season, so the Cubs get him for another year in 2017. Again, that’s quick and dirty math, but I think I’m right. (If someone wants to double-check me and offer any applicable corrections, I’d be much obliged.)

Hopefully Wood keeps up the success, and cements himself as a part of the Cubs’ rotation for years to come. He’s never going to be an ace, but he could be a very solid number three, which is probably as much as the Cubs hoped when they dealt Sean Marshall for him this offseason.

But, for now, and the rest of this season, Wood might have to serve as a de facto number one.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

31 responses to “Why the Cubs Were Probably Wise to Let Travis Wood Start the Season at AAA”

  1. jim

    NEXT year, I do believe that the CUBS will be
    very exciting. MY biggest concern is who
    will be our starting pitchers? So, I do believe
    the CUBS will have to make some deals for
    at LEAST 2 quality sp & hope that at least
    a couple of young pitchers will be good.
    Other than that, our infield is very good!
    The outfield is almost there as well
    GO CUBS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Carew

      Pitching is always a concern because it is the most important part, but I love the optimism

  2. Spencer

    All of what you said is true, except Volstad put the Cubs in a huge hole at the beginning of the season. Yes, yes, I know the Cubs would still be bad even if they would’ve won every game Volstad started, but that was not a fun sight to behold every fifth day.

  3. JulioZuleta

    “Now that he’s pitching so well with the big club, it’s easy to look back on all of those Chris Volstad losses and wonder what might have been,”

    We’d be running away with the division if we just let Wood start the year…

  4. Cubs Dude

    Fear the Mullet!!

  5. @cubsfantroy

    I was glad he started with AAA this year. Coming out of ST Volstad was doing great and Wood was struggling. It was the right move and hopefully Volstad can get his crap together down there and be a reliable 4th or 5th for the Cubs in the coming years.

  6. Andrew

    I agree 100% with what you said. The other reason it was good to keep him down was to give Volstad his shot. I know he failed miserably, but hindsight is 20/20 and Volstad really did look great in Spring Training. Spring results are somewhat useless, but adding in the fact that Volstad look good at the end of last year as well, and there was a decent body of evidence that suggested he had turned a corner. Hopefully when Volstad comes up again this year, which he probably will, we’ll find out his bad start was just a fluke and the cubs will have a good thing on their hands. It doesn’t look good, but hey, it didnt look good for Zambrano either and hes putting together a pretty good comeback right now

  7. Andrew

    I think there may be a problem with the amount of pitchers with great hair/facial hair. Ever since Wood came up, Samardzija’s looked bad. Perhaps the cubs need a shampoo/conditioner infusion to solve this crisis.

  8. kirby

    I like athletic pitchers who can do a lot of things well especially for the NL. Wood is a ball-player who happens to play pitcher. I think he helps provide some flexibility for the coaching staff, if/when it is needed. Also, fielding the position well will get him some extra outs through the course of the season.

  9. Arkansas Cub

    Travis wood= pride of arkansas baby!

  10. ETS

    I hate to be the downer, but Samardjza looked amazing to start the season and since mid May – eh, not so much. The MLB is about adjustments. One thing that helps my confidence in Wood is that the NL Central has seen him before.

  11. Paducah Cub Fan

    Everytime I think about the future, the position players seem promising. The pitching is the problem. That will have to be FA signings or part of the impending deals, I guess.

  12. rcleven

    Wood Has pitched well on his second trip up. A ERA in the mid .200 range is a unrealistic number for him. I be thrilled if he finishes up the year under .400.

  13. EvenBetterNewsV2.0

    Imagine if we would have kept Volstad down as well. He looked like a AAA pitcher at the beginning of the year, and maybe we don’t wreck his confidence if he starts there. Hindsight is always easy, but it is a thought. I think we could have wasted the starts on Wells and nobody would have thought twice about it.

  14. Idaho Razorback

    Welcome Arkansas Cub! Where in Ark do you live or are from?

  15. Featherstone

    To be honest I bet the whole bit about service time was a very important part in the decision. Theo knew that this team wasn’t going to compete for anything but the 1st pick overall in next year’s draft. Wood’s poor performance in ST only gave him a legitimate excuse to not have to put him in the starting rotation. Had Wood and Volstad had roughly equivalent numbers, I have no doubt that Wood still would have been the one at Iowa over Volstad.

  16. Kyle

    Given that the goal of this season was to lose as many games as possible, I can agree that keeping Wood down for the service time and to let Volstad lose a bunch was probably a good idea.

    1. hansman1982

      I love how you keep throwing this out there like Theo said it himself.

      1. Kyle

        He said it with his actions.

        At least I hope that is what he was trying to do. Because if not, it says very bad things about his ability to build a baseball team.

        1. CubFan Paul

          Agreed. Actions speak louder than words

          1. hansman1982

            I don’t think they were seeing how many games they could lose. They started with shit, stirred some of the shit around hoping to get some non-shit but the bucket was just filled with shit.

      2. Brian

        Well, there was that somebody they could have picked up, right, to do the job way better, wasn’t there?

        1. Kyle

          We’ll never know who exactly was available, but Epstein was about fourth or fifth on my list going into the process. He had some high-profile failures in Boston that dropped him a bit, although he was still in the “Way better than Jim Hendry” group.

          1. hansman1982

            Who was the other members of your top 5? Mine was:

            1A. Me
            2. Brian Cashman (until he signed the extension)
            3A. Theo
            3B. Andrew Friedmann (only lower than Theo because he has 0 experience managing a big time payroll and competing on big-name free agents)
            5. Dick Tidrow

  17. Steve

    #1 my mates, #1 pick….

  18. Leroy K.

    there was nothing he could do with this season. I would much rather build from the ground up (farm system) than patch and fix which obviously, hasn’t worked for the last 20 years….

  19. Chef Brian

    Theo was the rock star GM that the Cubs wanted/needed to rebuild the entire culture of the Cubs. There are few people out there that can say they weren’t excited to get Theo. Now we have to suffer the growing pains of building a club from the ground up. It’s going to be quite a ride.