At this time last season, the Cubs and their fans were hoping Travis Wood would be a long-term piece of the starting rotation. Rolling the clock forward to this season, though, things have not gone as planned. And with the Cubs looking to make a step forward into relevance in 2015, there may not be a place for him to try to get it back together. With the Cubs in the midst of another development season, Travis Wood is fine to take the ball every fifth day and try to work out his troubles. If he is unable to do that, however, he leaves Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with an interesting decision: Should they not offer him arbitration and allow him to become a free agent?
While Edwin Jackson gets a lot of publicity for being bad, Travis Wood has been a near equal mess this season. While Wood's ERA is not over 6.00, as Jackson's is, it is still unjustifiably high to keep in a rotation that the Cubs hope leads them to playoff contention while young hitters learn on the job. The peripheral statistics for both are fairly similar. Wood has an xFIP of 4.56 vs Jackson's 4.34, Wood's SIERA is 4.47 vs Jackson's 4.20, but Wood's BABIP allowed is .318 vs Jackson's .352. The BABIP difference likely accounts for some of the ERA difference, since both are getting hit hard and both have walk rates around 10%.
This season is not the outlying data point on Travis Wood, either. Last season is. Travis Wood had the best results of his career in 2013 in the most innings he's thrown in a season. A 3.11 ERA in 200 innings has a place in a big league rotation. And that place is in the middle or toward the top. But his results did not match his performance. Since 2011, his xFIP has stayed between 4.50 and 4.62 and his SIERA has stayed between 4.43 and 4.54. His career ERA with 2013 removed is very consistent with that performance, sitting at 4.40. It would appear that the 2014 version of Travis Wood is much closer to who Travis Wood is than the 2013 version.
Assuming the Cubs have two players with spots in the 2015 rotation, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, that leaves three spots for Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, and any potential free agent or trade additions. With players such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and others available this winter, there are options for the Cubs to replace Wood and/or Jackson, if they choose to go that direction. With Edwin Jackson having two years and $22M remaining on his contract, Travis Wood is much easier to cut ties with over the coming off-season. They can simply refuse to offer arbitration and allow Wood to walk...for free.
With an increased emphasis on payroll flexibility, Travis Wood's arbitration status becomes a more relevant topic because he is earning $3.9M this season. Even if he would end up taking a significant pay cut this winter, he will still make more money than any of Kyle Hendricks, Dan Straily, Jacob Turner, or Felix Doubront to do essentially the same job. In fact, there is a strong possibility that Wood would make more next season than all four of those players combined.
For Travis Wood, the decision to keep or cut Travis Wood is going to hinge on his performance. He needs to be far better than he has been through the first four and a half months of the season or the front office needs to be convinced that Chris Bosio and the rest of the pitching infrastructure can identify what the issue with Wood is. Then, they need to confidently confirm that it can be fixed over the winter. Even if both of those things were to happen over the last six weeks of the season, it is plausible that the Cubs could non-tender Wood and sign him as a fallback option, if he remains available. At this point, however, Travis Wood appears to be pitching for his job, and not just in the rotation, but on the roster.