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travis wood beardTomorrow is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to players under team control, but who are not already signed for 2015. That means pre-arbitration players (who are tendered contracts and “renewed” at whatever price the club decides), and arbitration-eligible players (who will have their salaries decided in arbitration later this offseason if not agreed before then).

I’ll get into the Cubs’ arbitration-eligible players later, as well as the implications of the tender deadline (lots of potential newly-available free agents and trades). For today, I want to highlight one of the tougher tender decisions the Cubs face: Travis Wood.

Let me say up front that, even just a few months ago, it seemed unthinkable that we’d head into December with this as a reasonable conversation. Travis Wood was a deserved All-Star in 2013, wasn’t downright terrible in 2014, and is still just 27. To go from that to non-tender discussion is fairly dramatic, I know. On the balance, I think Wood is ultimately tendered by the Cubs (or traded before tomorrow’s deadline, but that’s very unlikely).

But, among the reasons it’s even a conversation at this point:

  • The market is lousy with pitching, and not just back-end starters. There are tons of quality second tier arms, and tons of other quality arms available in trade. That puts downward pressure on the value of guys like Wood, and also makes the $5ish million he’d make in arbitration a little more dicey.
  • Speaking of dicey and $5 million, let’s keep in mind that the Cubs are not at their financial peak right now. Yes, they have some flexibility, and yes, they are likely to have significantly more money available in coming years. But, for 2015, $5 million cannot be thrown around lightly. I know you hate hearing it, but it’s the reality.
  • And speaking of the market being full of pitching, the Cubs are, too. If the Cubs do add two sure-fire starters, as they’ve set out to do, they’ll have a rotation with Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks as virtual locks, as well as the two new guys. Then it’s Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada, Edwin Jackson, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Eric Jokisch, Dan Straily, and Dallas Beeler, among others, all battling for one spot at the back of the rotation. Sure, injuries might sort one or two of those guys out, but it’s a huge group. They can’t all go to the bullpen and/or Iowa. And not all will last at all. But, I mean, it’s eight guys – at least – for one spot. With $5 million on the line, it has to be considered.
  • Then there’s the matter of that down 2014 season, paired with some possible good luck in 2013. I’ve written on that one extensively already this year, so I won’t re-write it here. Wood improved his numbers slightly in the starts that followed that post, but the big picture points remain the same: expected regression in the “luck” categories paired with a bunch of small performance declines all added up to a down year. Not so much that you’d write him off for the future, but enough that you can’t rightly project him as better than a 5th starter type in 2015 (indeed, Steamer projects a 4.37 ERA and 4.76 FIP).

That all said, I think Wood is probably worth the tender. Even if the Cubs decide he won’t win a spot in their rotation, depending on other moves, he’s exceptional depth to have in place, and maybe even a nice late-offseason or Spring Training trade asset. Wood is relatively young, he’s an incredible athlete, he’s got a great bat (which matters a small amount in the NL), and could easily bounce back to something halfway between his 2013 high and 2014 low. That guy is a quality 5th starter in any rotation in baseball.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow. A non-tender wouldn’t shock me, but it’s not what I’m expecting at this point. It’s also possible that the two sides agree on a contract before the tender deadline.

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