travis wood cubs feature

Travis Wood has had somewhat of a roller coaster career with the Chicago Cubs. Having first been acquired as a starter from the Reds, he had a magnificent – All-Star-calibre – season in 2013.

Through 200 innings that year, Wood finished with a sparkling 3.11 ERA. However, as we know, his career as a starter did not take off from there.

Behind his 3.11 ERA, there were some advanced statistics that told a much different story. His BABIP (.248) was far lower than his career average, his strand rate (77.4%) was a good deal higher than his career average, his strike out rate (17.5%) was not very strong and he never showed overwhelmingly good velocity or stuff in that role. All of which led to a FIP (3.89) and an xFIP (4.50) that were far worse than his ERA.



The next season, 2014, was much worse and things did not improve in 2015, either. That is, until he was converted into a reliever. Across his 63.2 innings as a Major League reliever, Travis Wood dominated, finishing with a 2.83 ERA (2.43 FIP). He had an elevated walk rate (11.2%), but he was striking batters out over 30% of the time and brought his HR/9 down to a meager 0.28. His groundball rate even increased up to a much more usable 37.6% and he decreased his hard hit% by 10 percentage points(!). Moreover, he simply looked really good out of the bullpen last year. All in all, the 2015 move to the pen was an enormous revelation for Wood and he projects to have another big year in 2016.

But will that year be on the North Side of Chicago?

In a report at CBS Chicago, Bruce Levine openly wonders about Travis Wood’s uncertain future in Chicago. As a proven starter with a Major League track record, Levine opines, Wood’s value to other clubs might surpass his value to Chicago as a reliever. Indeed, with $6.1 million due in 2016, Wood is arguably making a salary more fit for a starting pitcher. Other clubs have contacted the Cubs about Wood, Levine reports.

Wood’s desire to start is well-known and understandable, he may well still be very usable in that role, and it would be unsurprising if teams were poking around. But, would the Cubs really trade Wood before the end of Spring Training? I’m not so sure.

Even if they wanted to (we’ll get to that in a second), his $6.1 million salary may not be easy to move. No, it’s not a gratuitous amount of money, but at this time of the year, most budgets have been set and there’s not a lot of wiggle room left.

Plus, Wood is a free agent after this season. With his salary coming off the books at the end of the year, I’m not even sure there’s much of a reason to ditch Wood in exchange for the in-season financial flexibility (the Cubs already claim to have it). And, if clearing salary space is the goal, the return for Wood would not likely be significant. Isn’t Wood worth quite a bit more than mere salary relief?

And what about the fallout to the pen?



As it stands, Travis Wood projects to be one of the better relievers for the Cubs this year. Not only can he manage late-inning situations, he is one of the better options to fill in as a starter, should the need arise. ZiPS, for one example, is projecting 1.6 WAR for Wood in such a hybrid role this season. So, while I can logistically see the desire to clear his salary for increased flexibility, the loss of talent (as compared to a potentially weak return) would be significant.

And, of course, increased financial flexibility does not necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to improve via trade, later on. While shedding $6.1 million today can increase your ability to make a trade, it does not mean much to potential trade partners. The right circumstances would still have to arise.

To be sure, the Cubs have a great deal of bullpen depth, and some of it could be moved at the end of Spring Training (other teams develop needs, the Cubs can’t keep everyone, etc.). Furthermore, the Cubs have the luxury of four super utility pitchers projected to be in that bullpen. But Wood could be so good and so valuable to the Cubs in this 2016 season – a season in which the team has an excellent shot of doing very well – it would be risky to part with him simply because there is depth, and because other teams might be reaching out.






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