Position: Left-Handed Reliever
2016 Stats: 61 IP, 18.7 K%, 9.5 BB%, 2.95 ERA, 5.75 DRA, -0.5 WARP
How He Fits: Travis Wood was the longest-tenured Cub on the 2016 championship team, and he was arguably one of the leaders in establishing the team-first culture of flexibility that Joe Maddon instilled in Chicago upon arriving in 2015. Wood joined the team in 2012 after an offseason trade from Cincinnati and spent three years racking up innings in the starting rotation, including an All-Star campaign that was something of a highlight for a terrible Cubs team in 2013. In 2015, Wood put up a 1.45 WHIP in seven mediocre starts before being demoted to the bullpen in mid-May in favor of Tsuyoshi Wada.
After the demotion, Wood spouted the obligatory Bull Durham cliches about helping the team win, and then spent the next two seasons happily doing just that in whatever way he was asked. He functioned mostly as a long man at first but also recorded four saves in 2015. This season, it was tough to make out a pattern for his appearances, but Joe Maddon often put him into high-leverage situations despite a deteriorating ability to get right-handers out. Wood swung the bat well for a pitcher, pinch-hitting often and becoming the first reliever since 1924 to hit a home run in the playoffs with that memorable home run in Game Two of the NLDS. He was at the center of Maddon’s shenanigans twice this season as he played left field multiple times, notably making that crazy catch in the ivy against Seattle in July.
Wood’s quiet willingness to play anywhere or pitch in any situation without complaint was admirable. Soon after that first move to the bullpen, a number of position players seemed to follow his lead in effortlessly moving around the field.
Wood’s BABIP this year (.215) helped mask his poor underlying stats, including a FIP (4.58) that jumped more than a full run from 2015 and a K% that dropped nearly 10 percentage points. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Maddon was fond of Wood given his continued faith in him as the year went on, and the veteran clearly understands and fits into the clubhouse culture at Wrigley Field.
From a roster standpoint, Mike Montgomery’s possible jump to the starting rotation leaves the Cubs’ bullpen with a dearth of experienced lefties: Gerardo Concepcion, Jack Leathersich, Zac Rosscup and Rob Zastryzny are options on the current 40-man roster. Given their comfort level, Wood’s experience, and the lack of left-handed free agents, the Cubs might like to bring Wood back for another run. Plus, if Wood leaves, who will be left to sport a sleeveless camo vest at the 2017 World Series victory parade? (Ok, John Lackey might be able to step in there.)
Why it Won’t Work: Wood told reporters last offseason that he still considers himself a starter long-term, and other teams may be willing to give him a shot at the rotation that he won’t get in Chicago. The Miami Herald reported that the Marlins had possible interest in Wood as a starting candidate, and it would be hard to blame him for pursuing that avenue, especially given the thin starting pitching market.
On top of that, Brett Cecil’s four-year, $30.5 million deal with the Cardinals showed just how crazy the relief pitching market could get, and while Wood made upwards of $6 million last year, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs doling out a comparable long-term contract. Aside from putting together a huge package to get hardest-thrower-on-earth Aroldis Chapman last year, the Theo Epstein regime has never paid big for a reliever. Given the team’s recent track record in developing pitching, it seems more likely the Cubs would develop from within, make a trade or try to find some hidden gems on the market.
The possible cost of signing Wood becomes harder to fathom when you consider those alarming underlying stats from last year. Wood will be entering his age-30 season, so a bounce-back is entirely possible. But unless he fixes his dramatic splits (lefties had a .447 OPS against him, righties .865) or improves on his 4.58 FIP and 5.75 DRA, he may be limited to a LOOGY role for this team. The Cubs could thank him for five good years and move on.
Alternatives: Outside of closers, the left-handed pitching market is thin, especially after the Cardinals snatched up Cecil. If the Cubs pass on Wood, Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins are probably the next best names on the market, followed by guys like Ross Detweiler, Javier Lopez, Marc Rzepcynski and Clayton Richard. Otherwise we could see in-house options like Rob Zastryzny and Gerardo Concepcion, who saw limited time in MLB last year, get expanded roles.
Lead photo courtesy of Tommy Gilligan—USA Today Sports