Why Cubs Passed on Travis Wood, Other Relievers

Though the season won’t officially change for another month, winter feels like a long time ago at this point. People forget that the Cubs won the World Series a little over three months ago, which is understandable when you look at it in terms of the changes they’ve made in that time. No longer able or content to slumber, they’ve hit the snooze button for the last time and are waking up from a paradisaical dream with a brief yawn and a prolonged stretch.

Many of the alterations to the roster have been made in the pitching department as the Cubs have sought to buttress their starting rotation while creating ample redundancy in the bullpen at the same time. Numerous buy-low candidates have been brought in via trade and free agency, investments that diversify the organization’s investment portfolio without increasing its risk. While need played the biggest role, a lot of the decisions they made were about timing.

I had put together a list of the Cubs’ potential relief targets back in December, among them many names we’ve seen going elsewhere of late. Chief among them, at least for CI readers, is Travis Wood, who has officially agreed to a deal in Kansas City. As was just announced, Wood will get $4 million this season and $6.5 million next, plus an $8 million mutual option for 2019 that comes with a $1.5 million buyout. Oh, there are also $1 million in both SP and RP incentives each year.

Then you’ve got Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan — both of whom I wanted for their names alone — signing with the Mets and Indians, respectively, on nearly identical one-year contracts. When those signings were announced, I wondered aloud at the Cubs’ apparent lack of interest in high-quality relievers who were obviously amenable to short-term deals. As it turns out, the Cubs were very interested. They were just too far out in front of the market.

“There were some relievers who became available on shorter deals late that we were interested in early on (with) those types of deals,” Theo Epstein revealed Tuesday at Sloan Park. “But they weren’t really ready to commit yet to the shorter deal. And then by the time it rolled around late in the offseason, we kind of spent our money.”

Terms were never revealed, but the offer the Cubs made to Wood surely fell short of the one he agreed to with the Royals. My initial guess was something in the neighborhood of two years, $10 million — plus incentives — which may actually have been enough to entice the lefty to return. What I’m saying is that it was probably a couple million less. Why?

Well, the reality of the situation is that Epstein and Co. need to remain aware of the luxury tax threshold while keeping future options open.

“Whether it was Travis or some of the other relievers late, we had some self-imposed limitations,” Epstein explained. “We just wanted to leave some cushion for in-season moves. We saw last offseason how important that can be.

“I’m sure we’ll be active again midseason at the trade deadline if needs arise. But we also want to be mindful of not getting too full in the bullpen. We’d like to give an opportunity to younger guys at some point.”

That’s what it all comes down to, the opportunity and the additional cost associated with what amounts to incremental improvements. It’s cool to throw a bunch of names around and make a long list of wants, but there’s just no way to check them all off. And even if you could, there are only so many innings to go around, particularly if Rob Manfred gets his wish and MLB institutes some kooky new rules to shorten games.

Just like kids back from a successful round of trick-or-treating, the Cubs now have to lay out their haul and sort out the Mr. Goodbars from the Good & Plentys. And, being the discerning candy-hoarders they are, they’ve left good and plenty time to get back out for one last round before curfew should they need it.


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