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Cubs acquire Travis Wood from Reds for Sean Marshall

Travis Wood who was acquired for Sean Marshall is coming off subpar season. | Al Behrman~AP

Travis Wood, who was acquired for Sean Marshall, is coming off a subpar season. | Al Behrman~AP

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Updated: January 25, 2012 8:09AM

At one point, Cubs president Theo Epstein said Sean Marshall ‘‘might be the most valuable left-handed reliever in all of baseball.’’

After trading him to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday for unproven young starter Travis Wood and two prospects, Epstein called the deal ‘‘the type of move that fits our general direction.’’

It’s a direction that also might include trading top starter Matt Garza, whose market increases with every starter (C.J. Wilson, Gio Gonzalez, Yu Darvish, etc.) who comes off the board.

Epstein said the Cubs weren’t looking to trade Marshall, one of the top setup men in baseball the last two seasons. But the key to the deal was getting a young lefty starter whom the Cubs can control for the next five years.

If anything, the trade offers another reminder of why the Cubs haven’t gone after top free agents Wilson, Darvish, Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder and why they’ve looked to low-risk acquisitions with upside potential in David DeJesus and Ian Stewart.

‘‘No doubt our bullpen just got weaker,’’ said Epstein, who also acquired rookie outfielder Dave Sappelt and infield prospect Ronald Torreyes in the deal. ‘‘But I think our starting rotation just got stronger and our farm system got better. And if Wood bounces back to pitch like he did for that half of 2010, you could even argue we got better for 2012.’’

Wood, 24, is a control pitcher with a good breaking ball and changeup who was impressive in a 17-start debut in 2010. He regressed in 2011, when his ERA shot up more than a full run to 4.84 and his walks went up more than one per nine innings to 3.4.

Wood said that was a result of hitters adjusting to him without him adjusting to them, as well as mechanics issues he believes he solved this winter. Epstein called it ‘‘a little sophomore slump.’’

Marshall will earn $3.1 million in 2012, the last year of his contract. Epstein noted that, because of changes in the new collective-bargaining agreement, the Cubs likely would not have received draft-pick compensation for him if he left via free agency.

Epstein said the Cubs aren’t done pursuing starters. They’ve talked with lefties Paul Maholm and Jeff Francis. They also have an agreement with rehabbed reliever Manny Corpas and have had at least low-level contact with Brad Lidge.

Whether Garza’s short-term value to a possible contender is greater than the cost of trying to lock him up long term could be Epstein’s biggest remaining question.

‘‘Matt Garza is exactly the type of pitcher you want to build around,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It’s hard to find top-of-the-rotation-type guys, so if you have them and there’s a way to keep them, that’s always compelling for the club.

‘‘That said, we’re in a mode where we have to listen on everybody. If there’s a way to improve the long-term outlook for the club in a significant manner, you can’t look past opportunities like that.

‘‘We’re not in a situation where we have to do anything with Garza, but generally we’re in the business now of taking short-term assets and turning them into long-term assets. In the case of Matt Garza, perhaps nothing happens. Or perhaps we’re able to turn that into a long-term asset. There’s always an active trade market for elite starting pitching.

‘‘We’re not rushing into anything with Matt Garza.’’

Marshall, who could be in the mix for the closer job, said he views the trade as a sign that the Reds are making a win-now push.

‘‘I think that we’ve got the team to win,” he said. ‘‘I know trades are part of the game. I’m looking forward to going to Cincinnati and competing and trying to win a division and hopefully coming home this season with a World Series ring.’’

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