First-place problems: For Cubs, tough roster decisions come with the territory

Chicago Cubs pitcher Travis Wood works against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Caption
Chicago Cubs pitcher Travis Wood works against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Credit: Ben Margot

Credit: Ben Margot

Left-hander Travis Wood lost his spot in the Cubs rotation nearly 15 months ago and could have pouted with an eye on free agency less than two years away.

But having been there since the start of President Theo Epstein's rebuilding program has given Wood perspective. He has learned not to react emotionally to front-office decisions _ even those that result in friends of his being sent away.

"It's unfortunate for some guys, but it's the nature of the business," said Wood, who has carved a niche as a versatile reliever. "We've got good guys in here now, and guys in there that end up leaving. But you can't try to wrap your head around it too much because at the end of the day, it's out of your control as a player."

The Cubs recently made two tough decisions with the optioning of infielder Tommy La Stella, who hasn't reported to Triple-A Iowa in more than a week, and designating 41-year-old reliever Joe Nathan for assignment after only three scoreless appearances following his recovery from his second Tommy John surgery.

The Cubs will have to make room for pitcher Jason Hammel when he returns Wednesday from the bereavement list, and at least one starting pitcher will be bumped from the rotation if the Cubs advance to the first round of the National League playoffs.

"We think everyone who has been on this team already _ even for a small period of time _ has been a part of us," catcher Miguel Montero said. "It's hard to see them leaving, but we've been in this game long enough. There are no hard feelings.

"Friday, it was Nathan. Tomorrow, it could be me. That's the way it goes. It's something to get used to it, to see so much."

Despite batting .190 in 174 at-bats, Montero has received praise from manager Joe Maddon for his handling of staff ace Jake Arrieta. Rookie reliever Carl Edwards Jr. has minor-league options, but he has been effective, striking out 25 and walking only five in 18 innings.

The return and immediate production of Jorge Soler has created a logjam in the outfield, resulting in less playing time for Chris Coghlan.

Coghlan saw his playing time reduced in the final two months of last season because of the emergence of rookie Kyle Schwarber. But Coghlan was one of the happiest players after the Cubs defeated the Pirates in the NL wild-card game _ thanks in part to the contributions of Schwarber.

"What brings us back is the focus on the game aspect of it and having fun with it and not worrying about the tough decisions," Kris Bryant said. "But there certainly were some (tough decisions) this past couple weeks, and some guys might not have been happy and some very worthy of not being (victims).

"It just happens. It's part of the game, and I'm sure you'll see some of those faces that were gone later in the year playing against us."

Montero has gradually gotten used to the revolving door of a major-league roster since signing with the Diamondbacks out of Venezuela in 2002.

"(Originally) we thought it was crazy, and we were panicking," Montero recalled. "Today, it's like another day. Obviously, it's difficult. But I guess it's a good problem to have when you have so much talent."