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CASE FOR DODGERS KEEPING HIM: He decides a swingman role on a perennial contender is better than a starting role on an underdog team.
CASE AGAINST: He has a ring. He now seeks a team that could give him 30 starts and let him rebuild his value.
It wasn’t the return Alex Wood envisioned, but it had an ending he’ll never forget.
The left-handed pitcher came back to the Dodgers on a one-year contract last offseason, hoping to rebuild his reputation as a starter. Instead, a shoulder injury quickly derailed his campaign. When he returned to health, he was relegated to bullpen duty. And for much of the playoffs, Wood pitched in low-leverage relief situations.
However, everything changed in the Dodgers’ title-clinching win in Game 6 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Wood entered in the third and threw two perfect innings, striking out three, to help the Dodgers claim their first championship in 32 years.
What comes next for Wood, who turns 30 in January, is unclear.
A former All-Star in the Dodgers' rotation, Wood has made only nine starts and 20 total appearances in the last two seasons (including the playoffs). His earned-run average in that span is 5.50. His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is close to 1.5.
A recent ranking of free agents by ESPN didn’t project Wood to be among the 100 highest earners on the market this winter.
If he wants to stay in L.A., where he has spent five of his eight seasons in the majors, it almost certainly would be in a middle-relief role — a spot that might not suit him or the team.
Wood was acquired by the Dodgers in a July 2015 trade with the Atlanta Braves, who had selected the University of Georgia product in the second round three years earlier. After being limited by injuries in 2016, he experienced a breakthrough 2017 campaign, going 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA.
Despite posting a solid statistical line in 2018 (9-7, 3.68), Wood was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason with Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. A back injury delayed his debut in Cincinnati by four months. Once Wood did take the mound, he produced a 5.80 ERA, the worst he had compiled in his career.
As a free agent last winter, he signed a one-year, $4-million deal with the Dodgers and earned a spot in the rotation when the season began. But after giving up three runs in three innings in his first outing in July, he was put on the injured list with shoulder inflammation and didn’t return until September, when he made seven relief appearances and another as an opener.
Before his outing in Game 6 of the World Series, he’d made only three appearances in the postseason — never with the Dodgers protecting a slim lead.
Given an opportunity to be a bridge in the third and fourth innings of the title clincher, Wood flashed top form, requiring only 20 pitches — 16 of which were strikes — to record six outs.
After his last out, he strode off the field in an animated show of emotion. If that was his final act as a Dodger, it was a memorable one.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.