Cubs, Reds Discussing Possible Trade

According to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds are conferring about a possible deal that would send left-hander Sean Marshall to Cincy in return for fellow-southpaw Travis Wood. It is not immediately clear if other players are being discussed as a part of the deal.

Though no trade has been agreed upon as of yet, the move would significantly help both teams within the context of each organization’s blueprint for future success.

Sean Marshall has been one of the most effective relievers in baseball over the past two years, since officially transitioning to the bullpen on a full-time basis. His 5.0 WAR is the highest of any reliever in baseball since the beginning of the 2010 season, and only Mike Adams, Daniel Bard, Tyler Clippard, and Jonny Venters have tallied more holds than Marshall’s 56 in that same time frame. His FIPs of 2.28 and 1.86 over the past two years, respectively, also illustrate just how stifling he has been for the Chicago Cubs.

His addition would greatly augment the Reds’ bullpen. Francisco Cordero may or not be back as the team’s closer, and even if he does return, his effectiveness is waning. Despite his 2.45 ERA and sparkly 37 saves, his 4.02 FIP and depressed strikeout rate signal troubled waters ahead. Aroldis Chapman will also be tried as a starter this spring, which could subtract yet another key piece of the 2011 bullpen.

Marshall and his stellar curveball would stabilize a bullpen that has a chance to crumble following the 2011 season that already saw them post the 8th-worst FIP in Major League Baseball. It’s unclear whether the Reds view Marshall as a potential closer for their bullpen, but the numbers suggest he would continue to find success in the ninth inning and prevent the Reds from spending $7-10M on Cordero or even Ryan Madson.

The Cincinnati Reds are clearly treating the 2012 season as an opportunity to win right now. With the Cardinals losing Albert Pujols and the Brewers on the brink of playing the first 50 games of the season without Ryan Braun, the NL Central appears to be lacking a truly dominating or elite team, and now the Reds believe they have a chance for a pennant because they acquired a young, talented arm in the Mat Latos trade and are now reportedly preparing to trade away one of their young starting pitchers to upgrade the bullpen for only one year. Add in a top 10 offense that will return Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, and the Cincinnati Reds are poised to contend for a NL Central pennant this upcoming season.

Sean Marshall has only one-year, $3.1M remaining on his contract and will then be eligible for free agency. Given the fact that the Cubs likely have three of four years before potentially competing for a NL Central pennant, it makes sense that Theo Epstein would shop the 29-year-old southpaw for help in a starting rotation that compiled a combined 4.25 FIP in 2011.

Travis Wood will never be a top-tier starting pitcher at the big league level. He lacks premium stuff and is largely seen as a #4 or #5 starter by scouts. Kevin Goldstein and Keith Law both tweeted on Tuesday evening that Wood has a back-end starter ceiling.

The key, however, is not the overall ceiling for Travis Wood. Instead, it’s about the control years and the fact that the Cubs could pencil in Wood in the back-end of the rotation for the next five years at a cost-controlled price and expect Paul Maholm type numbers with fewer ground balls. While not awe-inspiring, Maholm is a perennial two-to-three win pitcher and was worth +11.9 WAR over his last five years with the Pirates. Travis Wood has a chance to provide that type of cost-controlled value for the next five years, two of which will continue to be at the league minimum.

Wood sits 89-90 MPH with his fastball from the left side and is an extreme fly ball pitcher. For being a fly ball pitcher in the bandbox that is the Great American Ball Park, it’s rather surprising that his career HR/9 is only 0.82. He has suppressed that number because his HR/FB has remained steady at 6.5% throughout his first 200 innings in the majors.

His 3.42 FIP and 2.2 WAR in 2010 energized many, who thought he would be a mid-rotation pitcher throughout his career for the Reds, but his BABIP climbed to .324 and his swinging strike rate dropped well below-average to 6.7% in 2011. That resulted in a 4.06 FIP (4.61 xFIP) and 1.1 WAR. Fan Projections here at FanGraphs, though, expect Wood to bounce back in 2012 and compile a 2.4 WAR, which is valuable at the league minimum for a team that needs back-end rotation help.

The Chicago Cubs are not likely to seriously compete in the NL Central over the next year or two, but they need help in their starting rotation. It does not necessarily make sense to spend money on a one or two year deal for Jeff Francis or Paul Maholm. Instead, it seems Theo Epstein and the Cubs are targeting a young pitcher for the back-end of the rotation — a guy who will still be under contract three or four years from now, when the team is hopefully through with the rebuilding and back in postseason contention.

A pitcher like Travis Wood.

This hypothetical swap of Marshall and Wood makes solid sense for both clubs, especially since both would be dealing from a position of strength.

The Cubs possess plenty of options for the set-up role next season. They could re-sign Kerry Wood, or they could utilize one of the trio of hard-throwing youngsters who have started to surface in the big leagues: Andrew Cashner, Marcos Mateo, or Chris Carpenter. Mateo is perhaps the best option of the young trio. He struggled in 2011, but that was largely due to a .361 BABIP and his 3.29 FIP suggests more success should be expected in the future.

The Reds, on the other hand, have a plethora of starters now that the organization traded for Mat Latos. Their projected starting rotation features Latos, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey. Keep in mind that Aroldis Chapman is being groomed for a chance at the starting rotation, as well. With six starters slotted ahead of the left-hander, Wood became extremely expendable for Cincinnati.

While this deal is only being discussed by the two teams right now, it does improve both clubs within the context of their offseason plans. The Cubs are rebuilding for a postseason run in a few years, and Travis Wood could still be a key back-end starter at that time. The Reds are building for the 2012 season, and Sean Marshall — arguably the best reliever in the league since the beginning of the 2010 season — potentially fills a huge gap in the back-end of the bullpen.

Both organizations would garner a player that improves their respective weaknesses, which is exactly what trades are designed to do.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

25 Responses to “Cubs, Reds Discussing Possible Trade”

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  1. ValueArb says:

    How can the Cubs make any trades when all of their assets are potentially owed to the Red Sox as compensation for the Theo Epstein signing?

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    • Matt Trueblood says:


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    • You will get none of our assets, and we will take all of your scouts. Thank you very much and goodbye.

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    • ValueArb says:

      Obviously I was being a bit sarcastic, but it’s still an interesting question. AFAIK, compensation hasn’t been determined yet, and last I heard Selig was going to decide it. Given that, does Theo have any restrictions on assets that potentially could be included as compensation. My guess is, given the situation, and Selig’s managerial and planning expertise, the answer is no. But it get even more interesting if the Sox suddenly screamed bloody murder because Theo dealt someone they thought was highly likely to be part of their compensation.

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      • Keith says:

        Marshall’s not somsone they would get. You don’t get one of baseball’s best relievers over the past two seasons as compensation for a GM/President. If the Cubs emptied their farm for MLB players to compete, you’d have a point, but Boston’s not likely to get ANYONE off of the MLB club, unless they want Blake DeWitt.

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      • Jon B. says:

        They can scream all they like. “Highly likely to be part of their compensation” is a far, far cry from “is actually theirs.” Until a deal is struck, all the players in the Cubs’ organization belong to the Cubs and are theirs to do with as they please.

        If they wanted to try to be vindictive, I suppose they could claim they couldn’t reach an agreement and try to take Theo back, but Selig would never allow it.

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      • says:

        By this logic, the Cubs shouldn’t be able to do anything since Theo is still property of the Red Sox.

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  2. Uncle Randy says:

    There have to be more guys going to Chicago though. I mean, Mike Adams fetched two of San Diego’s top 10 prospects, one of whom (Erlin) is a consensus top 50. As you mentioned, Wood is nice, but he ain’t two of the top prospects in a deep system.

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  3. chuckb says:

    Holds? Seriously?

    Otherwise, a really good article.

    Wood, in particular, would be a good pickup for the Cubs.

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    • guesswork says:

      While I agree that holds are pretty worthless in general, they do serve a purpose here. Considering WAR doesn’t paint the entire picture for relievers (see yesterday’s decent albeit flawed article on WPA), it makes sense to include something other than just WAR to give an idea about how well Marshall pitches in high leverage situations. Holds is a poor choice, but it does gives an idea (and by excluding closers, makes Marshall look better than other leverage statistics, which indicate he is a top 20 reliever rather than top 5).

      Of course, Marshall’s high WAR is due entirely (as I understand it) to a very low FIP over the last two years, which itself is due to very low home run rates that are well below his career average. This might be attributed to his conversion to the bullpen, I really have no idea.

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  4. david says:

    “it makes sense that Theo Epstein would shop the 29-year-old southpaw for help in a starting rotation that compiled a combined 4.25 FIP in 2011.”

    It probably would make even more sense if Jed Hoyer did that since it’s his job and all…

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    • James says:

      Ostensibly, his title is not GM to avoid perception of having left Boston for a lateral position, but his title does not mean that he is not the de facto GM.

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      • david says:

        Does Theo have a say in things as Jed’s manager, absolutely! Is he running things on a day-to-day basis and simply a glorified GM? Hell no.

        Just as Sandy Alderson wasn’t when he was the exec above Kevin Towers. Or Gerry Hunsicker over Andrew Friedman. Or Mark Shapiro over Chris Antonetti. Or Nolan Ryan over Jon Daniels. Or John Schuerholz over Frank Wren (probably to the team’s disadvantage). Or Tal Smith over Ed Wade.

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      • Mario Mendoza says:

        I’ve never understood this… why is Friedman not a GM?

        What does Hunsicker DO exactly? He’s listed below Friedman on the front office page of the TB website.

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  5. Gregory says:

    Wood’s declining SwStrk rates worry me as a Cub fan. That said he’s cheap and will be under control for awhile. I just wonder if the Cubs couldn’t get more from a desperate contender at the trade deadline.

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  6. Choo says:

    Travis Wood is the worst Ted Lilly impersonator I have ever seen . . . and as the only Ted Lilly impersonator I have ever seen, that also makes him the best. Damn he’s crafty.

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  7. Mike says:

    Marshall would not be considered as compensation for Epstien. The Cubs did not trade any prospects here and I don’t believe, based on reports I have read, that Boston will be getting anything significant. It is almost as if the handshake agreement is that the Cubs will stop purging the Red Sox front office and the Cubs and Red Sox will eventually agree upon which player or players go to Boston. My guess it is someone in A-Ball with a really low floor but a potentially high ceiling. Seems both Cherington & Epstien would agree to something along those lines.

    Here is what I find interesting. Theo has said for the past two weeks that “Marshall is the best set up man in baseball.” Despite having a contract with only one-year remaining, I’d be interested to see whom the Cubs get in the way of minor league players. Looking at the Reds minor league system, players like Henry Rodriguez, Todd Frazier and Dave Sappelt would seem expendable. Nothing to write home about. That being said, perhaps somebody they acquire in this trade may end going to Boston. My gut feeling is that there has been no compensation because the Red Sox simply do not want any of the players Chicago has made available. But I’m just a fan, I’ll let you experts figure it all out – that’s why I love this site. The commentaries are as interesting as the articles..

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  8. shel says:

    “The key, however, is not the overall ceiling for Travis Wood. Instead, it’s about the control years” – that strategy, while it might be true, makes no sense. Who cares about controlling a journeyman pitcher? Placeholder guys like Wood are on every streetcorner in MLB, you can pick them up for low FA cost without having to give up the best reliever in the bigs. If Theo really wants to set up a competitive team 3 years from now, why get a 5th starter who’ll tread water from now until then (or who might be out of baseball by then)? I’d much rather they got a AA player with solid potential upside who projects to be a #2 or #3 starter in 3 years.

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    • MC says:

      It’s conceivable that Wood would develop into a Ted Lilly type. Wood, at his age, has put up better numbers than Lilly and has a similar BB/9 and K/9 as Lilly. That would be quite valuable. And they get 2 minor leaguers thrown in as well.

      Combined w/ Marshall’s 1 year left to FA, seems like a pretty good deal for the Cubs.

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  9. David says:

    Shel, I agree. Cost control of an average Major League player is not going to help the Cubs get back to respectability, especially when we’re talking about trading one of the top 10 or 15 relievers in baseball over the last two years. I would have to think Epstein and Hoyer understand this. If the Cubs simply wanted a cheap, left handed pitcher to occupy the #5 spot, the Cubs could have signed Rich Hill who was non-tendered by the Red Sox (he’s actually a guy I’d love to see the Cubs give a shot for either the bullpen or a nonroster Minor League contract invite to Spring Training, as he’d be cheap), or another cheap fifth starter option. I believe and hope that some minor league players of substance are coming back to the Cubs, possibly Daniel Corcino or Kyle Lotzkar, Obviously, it won’t be Hamilton, Mesoraco, or Cozart coming to the Cubs. But it would have to be somebody good; otherwise, the Cubs lost this trade.

    If the Padres could get Erlin and Wieland from the Rangers for Mike Adams, despite the fact that Marshall has one year left on his contract, the Cubs should be able to get at least one guy close to this caliber (Erlin and Wieland are mainly ultra command guys), or at least a pitcher with decent upside. I would think the Cubs and Reds would have found close agreement on the prospects before this story would get leaked to the press.

    I am actually hoping for Daniel Corcino and Kyle Lotzkar, but Corcino and Ryan LaMarre would be pretty cool as well. I’m guessing Todd Frazier would be the type of player the Reds would want to keep for a backup role, but he’d be valuable to the Cubs.

    Let’s see who the Minor Leaguers are before we get too excited, as this is an important piece to this trade. The Cubs should be getting at least one top 10 guy.

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    • Bob Roberts says:

      Looks like the two prospects going to the Cubs are Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torrieyes. Sappelt is more of a 4th outfielder type, but still can bring some value to a major league team. Forget Wood, Torrieyes is the really prize of this deal. Last year as one of the youngest players in low A (18), he ranked to the tune of .356/.398/.855.

      I think this deal will have Reds and Cubs fans thinking their side overpaid…

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  10. Colin says:

    This article is clearly just another attack on the St. Louis Cardinals.

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  11. Colin says:

    Jim Breen is writing a book called “100 Things Cardinal Fans Should Know Before They Die, Which I Hope Is Soon” and all 100 things are “The Cardinals Suck”.

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