Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

tsuyoshi wada featureI’m not saying it’s Michael’s fault that Travis Wood has struggled over the past three starts after a solid four-start beginning to the season.

But Michael did point out – immediately before this three-game swoon – that this was the same script from 2014, and we know how that ended. My tongue, of course, is firmly in cheek, but the timing was a bit crazy.

More seriously, though: after a hot start to the year, Wood has posted a 10.13 ERA over his last three starts, totaling just 13.1 innings. He’s allowed six(!) homers over that stretch and walked four. Wood has struck out 13, which is solid, but, as we saw yesterday, he’s missing his spots and getting hammered when he does.

What this means for Wood going forward is an open question. Three starts is just three starts, even if we do recognize that 2014 did happen. I can see the merits in deciding to let Wood keep working, and I can see the merits in deciding to change things up. The Cubs’ coaching staff knows a lot more about what Wood is dealing with, specifically, and they may have a much better view to how correctable the present issues are – or whether they are issues at all. With such a small sample, you can easily look at a pitch here or there as a one-off mistake, without which things would have looked much better.

Long story short: I think we’ve reached the point where this is a reasonable conversation to have, even if I’m not yet 100% certain it’s time to make a change in the rotation.

Speaking of which, Tsuyoshi Wada’s rehab stint at AAA Iowa is up this weekend, and he was dominant in his latest start; an outing that was maybe-not-so-coincidentally pushed back to yesterday. Wada struck out six and walked none over seven innings. Wada allowed just four hits and one earned run. In total, Wada now has a 2.86 ERA over 6 starts and 34.2 innings at Iowa this year. He’s struck out 29 and walked 10, representing a decrease in his AAA strikeout rate from last year and a slight increase in his walk rate. But, you know, sample size.

Had he not been injured in Spring Training (groin), Wada would have challenged for a rotation spot right out of the gate. In 69.1 big league innings last year, Wada, 34, posted a 3.25 ERA, a 3.75 FIP, a 3.96 xFIP, a 19.7% K rate and a 6.6% BB rate. Although he struggled the third time through the order, Wada was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

Because of his unique contract situation (former Japanese professional, but then signed to a minor league contract by the Cubs, then added to the big league roster, but then with an option declined for 2015, but then signed to a new big league deal …. ), it is difficult to know, absent holding his contract in your hand, whether Wada can simply be optioned to AAA Iowa in the typical fashion now that his rehab stint is up, or if he must be added to the big league roster, or if he had to consent to the option, etc. Each of the Des Moines Register and Japan Times write-ups on his latest start, with comments from Wada, imply that he can be freely optioned to Iowa. Based on the normal rules, that’s what you’d expect for a guy who has been on the 40-man roster only since last year, but I didn’t want to assume anything given his situation.

So, then, we’ll take it as a given at this point, for the sake of discussion, that Wada does have minor league options remaining (though I’m still not 100% certain he doesn’t have some kind of extra rights in there).

Even if that’s the case, we’ll still have to see what the plan is. It’s entirely possible Wada will replace Wood in the rotation, with Wood heading to the bullpen (since Wood cannot be optioned to the minors). It’s also conceivable that Wada could replace today’s starter, Kyle Hendricks, who has battled his own command issues, and who can be freely optioned back to Iowa to work on those issues. It’s also possible that Wada could come up and join the Cubs’ bullpen in a long relief role, though that seems unlikely. And, of course, it’s possible that, for now, none of these things happen, and Wada simply keeps starting at Iowa.

When Wada’s rehab stint expires this weekend, we may get our first signal on the plan going forward, because there will have to be some kind of maneuver, even if it’s merely procedural.

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