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Cubs Tue Jul 31 2012

It Begins: Cubs Trade Soto, Maholm, Johnson

Cubs_200.pngWhile the Cubs were busy blasting the Pirates 14-4 behind homers from Darwin Barney, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were dealing their roster like it was a fresh deck of cards.

Hugs were abound in the Cubs dugout as Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto, and Paul Maholm said their final goodbyes to teammates as they were traded mid-game and pulled to avoid injury.

Maholm's brilliance over his last six starts, in which he's given up one run or less in each of them, has drastically increased his value to teams in need of a cheap starter, and the Atlanta Braves were finally able to pull off a deal with the North Siders (after a failed attempt at acquiring Ryan Dempster last week). Johnson will also be heading to the Braves to add right-handed bench depth the team has been searching for.

In exchange, the Cubs will receive a pair of minor league pitchers from the Braves, with Arodys Vizcaino being the main prize for Epstein and Hoyer, along with Jaye Chapman. A former Yankees prospect who was traded with Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez, Vizcaino entered the season as a Top 3 prospect in Atlanta's system (and Top 75 in baseball). Unfortunately, he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, with a return date of early 2013 being likely.

Before the injury, the 21-year-old Vizcaino was seen as a potential mid-rotation starter because of 95+ MPH fastball to go along with a low-80s hammer curveball that can both be out pitches in the majors. Injuries, however, have plagued much of his career, and have made the prospect of him succeeding as a starter seem remote. Those two pitches can easily translate into a dominant bullpen arm, and who knows, he may smooth out his delivery enough over time to start some games in Chicago. Regardless, the deal is worth the risk for Chicago, as the team wasn't going anywhere with Maholm and Johnson this season.

Chapman, the other pitcher coming from the Braves, is a career right-handed reliever with an average fastball around 90 MPH, but a plus changeup that will be his potential ticket to the major leagues. He's no more than a reliever that gets shuttled from Triple-A to the big leagues, but that's fine as a throw in to a trade involving an above-average starting pitching prospect.

The Cubs also dealt Soto (and cash) to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Jacob Brigham. This trade is a bit more surprising considering Soto's struggles with the bat this season (just .195), and was going to be non-tendered by the team after the season anyway. Steve Clevenger and Wellington Castillo will now split time (most likely a straight platoon) behind the dish in a battle for the inside track at the everyday job in 2013.

Not only were the Cubs able to find a home for Soto, they actually got a guy that could contribute to the team at some point the future. Brigham won't be dominant by any means, but 116 Ks against just 46 walks in 124 innings of work in Double-A isn't too shabby for the 24-year-old. He's projected as a back-end starter or solid middle reliever where he could play his fastball up into the mid-90s consistently.

The Cubs were busy on Monday night, and the talks didn't even involve the three biggest names the team has been floating around in trade talks. Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, and Matt Garza (in that order of probability), could all find new homes before Tuesday's 3 CT deadline. The latest rumors have Dempster and Soriano being discussed in a trade with the Dodgers (Dempster's preferred destination), and Garza to a team (Blue Jays or Orioles?) in the AL East if his arm checks out.

Hopefully they can still field a team by night's end.

 
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