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Trade great: Travis Wood is ‘the best’

Cubs left-handed starter Travis Wood has been compared Cliff Lee by Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Cubs left-handed starter Travis Wood has been compared to Cliff Lee by Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 26, 2013 6:21AM



CINCINNATI — This franchise renovation might seem to be getting old fast, with little progress evident at the big-league level as the Cubs try to avoid a fourth consecutive losing season.

But take an afternoon break Saturday from watching the paint dry on the rehab work, and you might glimpse one of the early signs of upward mobility.

That’s when Travis Wood — “the best pitcher in baseball, pretty much,” according to manager Dale Sveum — faces his former Cincinnati Reds team and tries for the 10th start in a row to prove he’s worthy of a core role in the Cubs’ developing rotation.

And to show once again that one of the new regime’s first trades, 17 months ago, is still its best.

“Travis can pitch; we liked Travis when he was here,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said of the four-player trade that sent dominant setup reliever Sean Marshall to the Reds and also landed the Cubs outfielder Dave Sappelt and a minor-league infielder.

“But you’ve got to give something to get something,” added Baker, who calls Wood a “Cliff Lee in the making.”

It’s not often a team deals a competitive player to a division rival.

“That’s the history of the game,” Sveum said. “You never want to trade to people in your division unless you feel like you’re obviously getting a huge need on your side of it.”

That would’ve been young starting pitching, in the case of the Cubs — even before anybody started comparing Wood to Lee or casually dropping “best pitcher in baseball” references about him.

An inconsistent, unimposing left-hander who couldn’t stick for a full season in the big leagues, Wood was still considered a good deal at the time of the trade because he was a young starter with upside and long-term club control. Marshall was in the final year of a contract and a $3.1 million luxury item for a team with no intention of contending.

“He’s only 5-10 or whatever he is,” Baker said, “but he can run, he can hit, he’s an athlete. He’s like a little bulldog type. He comes right at you. Like Cliff Lee.”

Even with Marshall going on the disabled list Tuesday for the second time this year with shoulder soreness, the Reds got the value they sought in a key late-inning pitcher for last year’s division winner.

If Wood keeps pitching like he has since this time last year — 10-14, 3.52 ERA, 1992/3 innings in his last 32 starts — the Reds could start feeling the loss by next season. That’s when they’ll likely need to fill the free-agency loss of Bronson Arroyo.

“It just feels good that I’ve been able to come in and help the ballclub out and not be a bust trade,” said Wood, adding he believes he’ll settle into a core role alongside Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. “I feel like I’m with the guys that we have here in place; I feel like I can be part of that.”



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