One of the key activities for the upcoming offseason may well be attempting to guess right on Travis Wood, who becomes arbitration-eligible this year. He will be eligible for free agency in 2017. While the team could wait another season to ink him long-term, each year of deliberation adds to the cost of the eventual deal if he keeps pitching well.. That said, if Wood isn't going to be worth keeping long-term, for whatever reason, extending him is a foolish idea. Either way, it appears the time is this offseason to decide for the benefit of the team. Is Travis Wood a long-term piece?
Selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2005 June draft (eight picks before Donnie Veal by the Cubs, six before Chase Headley), Wood began his pro career that year with brief stops in the Gulf Coast and Pioneer Leagues. His first hardship came in the Florida State League in 2007 when, in a season of only 12 starts, his WHIP was over 1.6. The next year he rebounded in the FSL, and advanced to Double-A, where he again struggled. His second try at Double-A was much better, as he dropped his WHIP to under one.
Triple-A was largely a formality, as Wood had displayed he would be a big leaguer eventually. After working on his craft in much of 2010, he began to ride the Triple-A/major league shuttle. His first year in that year in Cincinnati was very solid, Over 17 appearances, all starts, he kept his WHIP under 1.2 for the season. His major-league debut was a seven-inning start against the Cubs that had him in line for a victory until the bullpen coughed it up. In his third big-league start, he took a perfect game into the ninth inning before giving up a hit. Clearly, the talent was there.
His second season in Cincinnati was more ragged, for whatever reason. He remained on the shuttle between Triple-A and the show. In his second season, he surrendered more than a hit an inning, his only such season like that to date in the bigs. In the off-season, the Reds no longer trusted him every fifth day, so they flipped him to the Cubs with Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes for Sean Marshall. The official date was December 23, 2011, though the prospects returning lagged a bit versus the 'Marshall for Wood' portion.
While the trade looks quite lopsided in the Cubs' favor now, it made sense at the time. Cincinnati was in contention for the playoffs that off-season, and thought a trusty LHRP might help them out next season. Manager Dusty Baker had staled on Wood, so flipping lefty arms made sense. For the Cubs' new front office, it was an easy call. Marshall was staring down free agency, and the Cubs were a fifth-place team in the making. Marshall was on borrowed time, so getting a potential starting pitcher long-term, with some extra pieces, was more than the team could likely get elsewhere.
(As it isn't worth a full post elsewhere, the Cubs finessed Ronald Torreyes rather well. He was added as a 'distant A-Ball' prospect, like so many other since Theo Epstein arrived. He played largely well in High-A Daytona in 2012, though he started and ended a bit cold. In 2013, he was initially sent to Mesa, for unclear reasons. Something went down, and as I have no need-to-know, I'm not sure what it was. He eventually reached Tennessee in Double-A and played a key role in the team's pre-Javier Baez success. In as much of a numbers-game move as anything, Torreyes was flipped to Houston for international signing space at about the time Baez arrived in Daytona. The recently turned 21-year old Torreyes OPS'd .654 for Corpus Christi in Double-A for Houston. That isn't impressive for a one-tool player.)
Upon arriving in Epstein's Chicago, Wood was initially dispatched to Iowa. Why? For money reasons, as much as anything. As unpopular as 'the options game' tend to be in some circles around here, Epstein expertly exploited the rules here. Wood was certainly better than Lendy Castillo, and probably others, early that season, But by burying him in Triple-A Iowa for as little as seven reduced-stress starts, Wood missed out on gaining a year against the arbitration system.
While you may wish to argue the team would have been better for just over a month with Wood instead of Lendy Castillo or whoever, the Cubs set up a circumstance where Wood is looking at three years, instead of two years, of off-seasons before free agency. That will make his extension far-more club-friendly.
Wood started somewhat slowly in Chicago in 2012, repping an ERA barely south of six after three starts. He was better the rest of the season, and has been better yet this season. His WHIP was a whisker below 1.2 in 2011, and is at 1.12 as I write this. His hitting has been solid (three home runs this year), and he's only made three errors since the trade.
It makes sense to extend a pitcher with a 4.8 WAR for the season, especially since he seems to be getting more reliable as time progresses. I'm not sure how far out you stretch the extension. Perhaps five years, at a team-friendly rate, with a club option for a sixth? I'll let people better at number crunching than I am take a shot, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Wood throw up a string of 3.5 to 4.5 years in a row. At $5 million per win above, that indicates a really nice deal at ten million per year. Fortunately, it won't require that much, in part to his rather unnecessary stint in Iowa.
My questions in closing are as follows. Are you buying Travis Wood long-term? How would you, if you are, craft a reasonable extension for him? If you aren't looking to extend him, what more do you have to see? Or, do you just prefer not extending pitchers?
With a full year of Travis Wood pitching well, I'm on the extension train, especially if Wood is amenable to an extension more than Jeff Samardzija is. The extra year of arbitration eligibility limits his upside request, and provides the club more leverage, or time if it comes to that.
It's still a bit early, but it looks like this one will go down in the win column for the Cubs. While I understand why the Reds did what they did, Wood is looking like a solid piece going through the decade. Are you forgetting Sean Marshall yet?