As has been reported by Phil Rogers of ESPNChicago.com, the Cubs and Reds are quite far down the road in working out a trade that would send lefty setup man Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for fellow lefty Travis Wood and a prospect or two.
At first, I was opposed to the deal, simply because I was blinded by a strong personal bias towards Sean Marshall. With the exception of his rocky rookie campaign as a 23-year-old, Marshall always performed well as a middle-to-back of the rotation starter and exceptionally once he made the full-time conversion to short relief in 2010. Marshall's stuff as a starter always seemed to lend itself towards an eventual transition to the bullpen, as the third time through the order seemed to be his Achilles' heel. However, considering some of the other men to start games for the Cubs during Marshall's starting career (Les Walrond, Jae Kuk Ryu, and eventual relievers Carlos Marmol and Angel Guzman), it was easy to like a guy like Marshall.
However, the time has come to part ways with the tall, lanky left-hander. In 2012, Marshall will earn $3.1 million, and then be a surely coveted free agent. At the most, the Cubs would receive one supplemental draft pick if Marshall were to stay with the Cubs and leave in free agency this time next year. A team that seems to be headed for an inevitable rebuild has no need for a top setup man.
That said, Marshall has also become expendable due to the emergence of James Russell as a quality reliever. While he was misused by now-dismissed manager Mike Quade, his numbers after his final start of the season on May 22 in Fenway are nothing short of impressive. Russell posted a 2.66 ERA in 40 2/3 innings and had a very likable 1.13 WHIP as well. It's not too out of the question to think that Russell could easily step into Marshall's late-inning lefty role. Also waiting in the wings are prospects Scott Maine and John Gaub, despite their struggles in limited action for the 2011 Cubs. Another option is 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Jeff Beliveau, who posted a 1.57 ERA between High-A and Double-A this past season.
Now, look at what the division rival Reds would send back for one year of Sean Marshall. With their recent acquisition of Matt Latos from San Diego, Cincinnati finds themselves with more starting pitchers than they have rotation spots, with Latos joining an already full stable with Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman. Travis Wood has been of interest to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and would be the centerpiece of the trade.
Travis Wood, who would presumably have to wear "T. Wood" on his jersey, will turn 25 in February and already has just over a year of MLB experience under his belt. Assuming he sticks in the majors with the Cubs, Wood would be under team control until after the 2016 season. A fly-ball lefty, Wood struggled in 2011 with his command and managed to put up an even higher ERA at Triple-A than he did in the majors—4.84 and 5.33, respectively.
However, Wood put up an ERA of 3.51 in 17 starts in 2010, and that success, coupled with his youth, makes him an intriguing player. He was utterly dominant in the minors in 2009, putting up an amazing 1.77 ERA between Cincinnati's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. Taken in the second round of the 2005 draft out of high school—eight picks before former Cubs top prospect Donnie Veal—Wood climbed the Reds minor league ladder steadily. While he may never be an ace, he does draw many comparisons to former Cub lefty Ted Lilly and may even have a higher ceiling.
The factor that I feel will make or break this trade is the prospect(s) coming over from the Reds. As nice as the salary relief and getting someone to help fill out the rotation is, Marshall for Wood isn't exactly enough to pry a top lefty reliever, especially from a divisional rival. As of right now, there hasn't been word of who the Cubs will get from Cincy's minors, but I think it's safe to presume we won't see someone like Billy Hamilton or Yorman Rodriguez come over, perhaps a younger player like starter Pedro Villerreal or slugging infielder Neftali Soto could come over and help boost the Cubs weak farm system.
Trading Marshall is the right move, but getting a fitting return will be key.
UPDATE: The prospects the Cubs will be receiving are AAA outfielder Dave Sappelt and A-ball infielder Ronald Torreyes. Sappelt, who will be 25 next season, made his MLB debut in 2011, hitting .247 during his time at the show. Sappelt is 5' 9" and 195 lbs, and has a career minor league OBP of .362., and should compete for a spot on the MLB roster, though he'll most likely see time in a crowded Iowa outfield with Brett Jackson and Tony Campana. Torreyes, 19, hit a blistering .356 for the Reds class-A affiliate this past season as an 18 year old. The tiny Venezuelan infielder (5' 9", 140 lbs) should be slotted for high-A Daytona this year.