Cubs ship Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for Travis Wood

The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds closed in on a trade Wednesday night that would send left-handed reliever Sean Marshall to the Queen City in return for Travis Wood and two still-unnamed minor leaguers.

The Cubs are looking to bolster a rotation that needed help, and continue to add depth in the farm system lacking much to get excited about. Marshall was one of the few pieces with any value at the major league level, and the Cubs managed to get a decent haul back for them, no matter who the two yet unknowns turn out to be.

During the rush to the trade deadline this summer, Marshall looked to be about the only Cubs that would change uniforms. Somehow Chicago managed to move Kosuke Fukudome, but Marhsall's bags must have been packed for the entire month of July.

Only the trade never happened. Some speculated that the outgoing Hendry administration didn't want to make any moves that could cost the new front office pieces to deal with. That makes sense, if only in retrospect. There was no telling who the new GM would be, nor what value the club would continue to place on a middle relief arm.

Bullpen strength is fungible. One year a team has it, the next it is gone. Relievers rotate between the big club and Triple-A all season long. A player with a 2.5 WAR might quickly turn into one that registers below replacement. Missing an opportunity to trade the lefty at his peak when teams were seeking bullpen help seems like a missed opportunity.

The Cubs still managed to change Marshall and his $3 million contract into something of value.

With free-agent pickings slim this season, Wood comes in to plug up one of the visible holes at the back of the rotation. Even recreating his 2011 season with the Reds makes him as good or better than all of the square pegs the Cubs tried to push into the round holes last year, based on his 81 ERA+.

The real question is what type of pitcher Wood will be when given an everyday spot in the rotation.

Currently Baseball Reference places Wood as most similar to Philip Humber, who did an adequate job filling in for the Chicago White Sox in 2011. The Cubs probably shouldn't expect more than the Humber performance, which ended 2011 with a 112 ERA+ and superb K-BB numbers for a non-power pitcher.

Moving Wood to Wrigley Field could be an issue as he will continue to be a flyball pitcher (only 31.4 percent grounders career) in a very hitter friendly park. When the wind is blowing out, the ball jumps, and the Cubs could be looking at a lot of home runs landing on Waveland.

The thing about Wood is that he has managed to keep his extreme flyball tendency in check when it comes to the long ball. For his 200 innings, over two seasons, he has surrendered home runs on just 6.5 percent of his flyballs. Considering statistics such as xFIP assume a 10 percent home run rate, Wood is overachieving. It doesn't seem a fluke because he has done this over two seasons, and in Great American Ballpark, which is also a hitter's haven.

That is why looking at Wood's xFIP can be misleading. He is expected to be doing something that he manages to avoid.

The good news is that the true Travis Wood is probably somewhere in between the 2010 version and the 2011 version. In 2010, Wood finished with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He also benefited from a .259 BABIP against him. In 2011, he was the opposite pitcher, ending at 4.84 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP and a .324 BABIP. His strikeout rate also dropped while his walks increased.

Assuming he can land somewhere in the middle, perhaps bringing his BABIP number more in line with the league average of .296, the Cubs are looking at a starter that can deliver about a 4.30 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Best case is that Wood average a bit more toward his debut season and ends at an even 4.00 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. Those aren't bad numbers at the back of the rotation, and especially not considering the mess the Cubs has had there recently.

Wood also comes with the added benefit of being just 25 years old next season, and with another minor league option open. If the year doesn't begin just right, it leaves the Cubs the ability to let Wood find himself a little bit in Iowa. Expecting an ace to blossom out of a trip to the minors would be a mistake, but just centering his two disparate performances could mean a solid base for the pitching staff of 2013 and beyond.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Benjamin Miraski published on December 22, 2011 2:46 PM.

Cubs and Free Agent Pitchers: Joe Saunders was the previous entry in this blog.

Paul Maholm may give up more home runs, but a steal for Cubs is the next entry in this blog.

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