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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.