The last time Travis Wood had a big league uniform on, he was busy celebrating the first World Series title won by the Chicago Cubs since the 1908 season, and rightfully going completely nuts. It was a far cry from the last time he took the mound in a Reds uniform, however, a late September day back in 2011 that saw him allow 4 ER in just 2.2 IP as a Cincinnati squad with playoff aspirations stumbled home with an eventual losing record.
Then, as the team searched for the right fix to get them back into the playoffs, he was shipped to Chicago with a trio of other Reds in exchange for Sean Marshall, the shutdown lefty reliever that helped lead the Reds to a 2012 season that was one of the best in the franchise’s regular season history.
Wood, now 29 years old, had a mixed bag of personal success with the Cubs, earning an All Star selection in a rather brilliant 2013 season as a starting pitcher. He gradually was phased out as a starter, however, as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer brought in loads of other talented arms, but he still managed to play an integral role from the bullpen in the team’s resurgence and eventual World Series trophy.
As ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday, the now free agent lefty is receiving a decent amount of lukewarm interest this offseason, with the opportunity to be a starting pitcher once again a priority of Wood’s. And it’s that bit of information that made me immediately consider the potential of a Reds reunion.
Obviously, the current iteration of the Reds has a litany of needs, with unblocking the logjam in the middle infield being the one that's received the most consistent press. The Reds front office and GM Dick Williams have repeatedly mentioned that they're looking to add arms, as well, with the team having been linked in rumors to the likes of Jeremy Jeffress and Neftali Feliz at various junctures during the Winter Meetings. But as MLB.com's Mark Sheldon made light of in his Winter Meetings recap today, Cincinnati is still in the market for a pitcher who could compete for the "open spot" in the team's rotation, something that Wood clearly is for at this juncture of his career, too. That dovetails well with what GM Dick Williams said in regards to their pitching corps to The Enquirer's Zach Buchanan prior to the Winter Meetings.
"The hope is we have a lot of the young pitching step up, but as well all know you can't always count on everything going your way," Williams said. "You have to contingency plan. So the more options we come into spring training with, the better. It probably will behoove us to have some sort of options in terms of both starting and relief with some experience."
So, the Reds want a veteran to challenge for the final perceived spot in the rotation, but one who may also be willing and able to transition to the bullpen at some point if a talented young pitcher stakes a valid claim. It's hard to define what Wood has done over the previous three seasons with a better description, really, and that's why he becomes a logical fit on paper. After that 2013 season of 200 IP, a 3.11 ERA, and the aforementioned All Star bid, Wood stumbled to a 5.03 ERA in 31 games in 2014 - all starts. He was then phased out of the rotation gradually in 2015, logging just 9 starts among the 54 games in which he appeared, ultimately culminating with his 77 appearance 2016 season (that featured no games started at all).
In other words, a guy looking to make the back of the rotation who has both proven he can get outs from the bullpen and that he's willing to do just that, if need be. Sounds a lot like what the Reds are looking for, to be frank.
There's the added bonus of him throwing left-handed - and not just throwing lefty, but being well versed in retiring left-handed hitters repeatedly. The .344 wOBA allowed to left-handed hitters by Reds pitching last year ranked as the 2nd worst in all of Major League Baseball, just one of the major failures of a pitching staff that surrendered the single most dingers of any staff in MLB history. Wood, however, yielded just a .203 wOBA against lefties, which was the 5th best mark of the 197 MLB pitchers who threw at least 30 innings against lefty hitters last year.
Wood can be the lockdown lefty to help fill that void in the bullpen, if need be. Given the 691 innings he's been able to throw in the last 5years , he should also add to the burgeoning role of multi-inning, high leverage guys being tasked in that role (alongside Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias). Or, perhaps he could come in and seize an unlikely starting role - something that was also on the table for Marshall back when he signed his multiyear deal with the Reds after being swapped for Wood some five years ago.
Whether or not Wood would have interest in returning to a franchise that once deemed him expendable is a primary consideration, I suppose, though the priorities and situation of both player and franchise are in vastly different places than they were in 2011. Wood is now seeking one last chance to start and looking for a team willing to take a chance on a guy like that, and the Reds - once flush with a rotation too full to need Wood - is now in a great position to ink a guy in that mold.
He made a bit over $6 million last year, but while his ERA and WHIP were at or near his career bests, his K/9 dropped back to near his career norm after a significant spike in 2015. The Reds might be in a decent spot to offer him the role he apparently seeks, but Wood just might be able to find a more lucrative offer to be a primary reliever instead, and that may well end up the driving factor in his decision. Still, it seems the Reds should probably make that decision possible.