Wood they? Travis could return to Cubs

Versatile left-hander could provide rotation insurance, pop at plate

Wood they? Travis could return to Cubs

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' rotation was a strength in 2016, compiling the best ERA in the Major Leagues. Heading into this season, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Mike Montgomery are projected as the starting five.

But what if the Cubs brought Travis Wood back as insurance?

Hot Stove Tracker

It's no secret the Cubs feel they need more depth for the rotation, which is why they've been linked to right-hander Tyson Ross this offseason. Now a free agent, Wood led Cubs relievers in innings pitched last season with 61. He was a full-time starter from 2010-14, and he opened the 2015 in Chicago's rotation before being switched to the bullpen.

The lefty, who turns 30 on Feb. 6, has thrived since the move, and he may be more valuable in the bullpen but could be valuable insurance for the rotation. He's 8-2 with four saves in five opportunities and a 2.83 ERA in 126 games in relief. In 133 starts, Wood is a combined 35-50 with a 4.19 ERA.

Wood escapes a jam

Wood would most likely welcome a return to a team that has encouraged him to hit. Although he has a .197 average in five seasons with the Cubs, he's shown some pop, hitting three home runs and driving in 10 in 2014.

Plus, Wood fits in with Cubs manager Joe Maddon's emphasis on versatility. After all, the pitcher had no problem switching to the outfield, doing so three times in 2016, including a crazy 7-6, 12-inning win over the Mariners at Wrigley Field. In that game, Wood replaced Joe Nathan on the mound in the sixth inning with two on and nobody out, and walked the first batter he faced. Wood then retired the next three and batted for himself in the bottom of the inning. In the seventh, he moved to left field so right-hander Pedro Strop could pitch.

Statcast: Wood crashes into wall

With one out and a runner at first, the M's Franklin Gutierrez launched a fly ball to left that Wood backed up and caught on the warning track, slamming into the ivy-covered outfield wall. The crowd of 40,952 gave the left-hander a standing ovation.

"Someone asked me how many left fielders would make that play? Not many because they would've been afraid," Jason Heyward said at the time.

Dexter Fowler tested free agency last offseason, and surprised the Cubs by returning in late February 2016. Maybe Wood will, too?

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.