Chicago Cubs pitcher Travis Wood finished the 2012 MLB season as a starting pitcher. In his last seven starts, Wood pitched three quality starts and a 3.07 ERA, and was within one out of two more quality starts. He finished the season with a 6-13 record, 4.27 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Was that enough to win a spot in the 2013 Opening Day starting rotation? Wood earned praise from manager Dale Sveum, who suggested that Wood would keep his starting gig in 2013. However, after management added four starting pitchers this offseason, Wood’s future will depend on how he pitches in March.
Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson are locks to make the starting rotation. These pitchers either have too much upside or money invested into them. General manager Jed Hoyer promised Scott Feldman a starting job. Slot him in at No. 4 or No. 5.
Barring injuries, trades or broken promises, that’s four-fifths of the rotation. That leaves Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva and Wood fighting for the last spot. Baker and Villanueva both signed contracts this offseason. Baker signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal, while Villanueva signed a two-year, $10 million deal.
It’s hard to see Baker getting left out of the mix. 159 of his 163 career appearances have been starts. When free agency started, Villanueva wanted a team to promise him 30 starts. How would either of these pitchers respond if they’re used as spot starters or middle relievers?
Moving Wood to the bullpen doesn’t make much sense. Why give up on one of the pitchers with the most upside? Wood also gives them a southpaw. Are the Cubs comfortable with five right-handed starting pitchers?
Will these pitchers rotate from the bullpen to the starting rotation? That never worked for Samardzija, who struggled when he didn’t have a clear role. Furthermore, Hoyer suggested that Feldman’s struggles were because he was always looking over his shoulder with the Texas Rangers.
After spring training, Sveum has some interesting decisions to make. It becomes even more interesting if everyone pitches well. One or two of these pitchers are bound to feel lied too. Will they remain professional about a demotion? If word gets out that management lied to these free agents, could that affect the franchise’s ability to sign players down the road?
One thing is for certain: Wood had better come out of March and April pitching very well. His job as a starting pitcher depends on it.