Paul Maholm, who was acquired by the Cubs this offseason, is now a member of the Atlanta Braves after being traded late Monday.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves boosted their rotation and added a right-handed bat to their bench just after midnight Monday night by acquiring lefty Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson from the Chicago Cubs.
Braves general manager Frank Wren confirmed the team traded right-handed pitchers Arodys Vizcaino, a top prospect who had season-ending Tommy John surgery in April, and Jaye Chapman to the Cubs. The Braves also got cash in the deal.
With the trade deadline looming Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs stayed busy — sending ace Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers, along with Chicago catcher Geovany Soto. Soto was pulled from Monday night’s 14-4 win against Pittsburgh, as was Johnson, and they both hugged teammates in the dugout.
“He came out of the game and said goodbye,” Cubs backup catcher Steve Clevenger said. “Everybody said he was traded and we went on from there.”
With the Braves having won six straight and only 3 1/2 games behind Washington in the NL East and in the thick of the wild-card chase, they plucked another Cubs pitcher.
“It was one of those situations obviously where Atlanta was in the market for a starting pitcher,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a chuckle. “It made the conversation a little bit easier.”
“There’s certainly no hard feeling from the front office on what happened” with the potential Dempster deal not going through last week, Hoyer said. “As the deadline gets closer, people’s positions become more clear. I think it will be busy tonight and I think it will be busy in the morning.”
Wren said the team views Vizcaino as a rising power reliever, but he said Maholm and Johnson are players who can make a difference for the Braves’ playoff hopes.
“We want to put ourselves in a good position to win the division, not just make the playoffs,” Wren said. “We were looking for a starter, a quality starter that could give us the kind of production we needed up and down the rotation.”
Hoyer liked the pickup of Vizcaino the most.
“In the case of Vizcaino we had a chance to get a 21-year-old who, while injured right now, has a really bright future. Guy that has a great arm. Kind of power arm we’re looking at in the system. Chapman has had good success in Triple-A as a reliever. Another guy we’re excited about,” Hoyer said.
The Braves recently removed Jair Jurrjens from the rotation. Kris Medlen, who has been a key reliever, will make his first start of the season on Tuesday night against Miami.
Wren called the deal “a perfect fit” for the Braves’ needs.
“We got two real key fits for us,” Wren said. “We will be real happy with where we are.”
Maholm, 29, is 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA, including a 4-0 record and 1.23 ERA in July. He is 62-79 in eight seasons, including seven with Pittsburgh.
“The thing that keeps coming back from our scouts is he doesn’t give in,” Wren said. “To have the opportunity to get a quality left-handed pitcher at any time, we’re excited about that.”
The Braves will have a $6.5 million option to retain Maholm in 2013.
Johnson is hitting .333 against left-handers this season. He is 13 for 29 (.448) as a pinch hitter.
“We need another right-handed hitter,” Wren said, adding the team also had interest in Johnson last year.
Chapman is 3-6 with a 3.52 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett. Vizcaino was 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA in 17 games with Atlanta in 2011.
The 35-year-old Johnson is hitting .307 with three homers and 16 RBI. He has played all three outfield positions and is a career .284 hitter.
Johnson started in center field and led off for the Cubs on Monday night. He reached on an error to start Chicago’s nine-run fifth inning. After the Cubs batted around, he was due to bat again in the inning but did not come out onto the on-deck circle.
After a brief delay, David DeJesus was sent out to pinch-hit. TV showed Johnson exchanging hugs with teammates.
“It is strange telling two players in the middle of a game,” Hoyer said. “It started to leak out about Paul, and I wanted to make sure he heard from us first.
“Both guys took it great. They both enjoyed being Cubs.”
Wren said Maholm may join the team in Atlanta today. Johnson joined Tuesday.
CUBS DEAL DEMPSTER TO RANGERS: The Texas Rangers won the Dempster Sweepstakes Tuesday, acquiring the Cubs ace for two minor leaguers moments before the deadline.
The AL West leaders fortified their rotation for the stretch run, sending infielder Christian Villanueva and pitcher Kyle Hendricks to Chicago.
Dempster, who had power to block deals, had refused to approve a trade to Atlanta last week. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees also tried to land the 35-year-old righty.
“It’s a great opportunity over there,” Dempster said. “It’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of teams out there that are really good. I think they have as good a chance as anybody.”
Dempster was 5-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 16 games for the Cubs and can become a free agent after the season. He has already said he plans to re-sign with the Cubs and finish his career in Chicago, making his move to Texas essentially a two-month deal.
With a strong season that included a 33-inning scoreless streak, Dempster was one of the most attractive pitchers on the market. The Rangers were looking for pitching help even though they began the day leading with a 59-42 record and a 3½-game lead over Oakland in the AL West.
The Dempster trade came less than a week after the division rival Los Angeles Angels got former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke in a swap with Milwaukee. Many fans expected Texas to counter with a big move, and the Rangers pulled it off.
The two-time AL champion Rangers needed help with their rotation.
Right-hander Colby Lewis underwent surgery Friday to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow and will miss the remainder of the season. Roy Oswalt has struggled, too, since signing as a free agent in midseason and is being moved to the bullpen.
“He might be a guy like Colby (Lewis),” Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. “I loved seeing a guy like that pounding the strike zone and working late into games. (Dempster) might have an advantage off the bat because not many guys in this league have seen him much at all.”
The Cubs had agreed to deal Dempster to Atlanta last week, but he did not give his approval.
“We’ll see,” said Dempster, a third-round draft pick by Texas in 1995.
PHILLIES SEND PENCE TO GIANTS, VICTORNIO TO DODGERS: A fan unconcerned that the Philadelphia Phillies were playing in Washington walked around the team’s ballpark Tuesday afternoon with a sign that read: “Will play outfield for food.”
After trading two-thirds of their starting outfield, the last-place Phillies need all the help they can get. The five-time NL East champions turned into sellers before the non-waiver trade deadline, sending Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hunter Pence to San Francisco.
“When you’re in last place, you can try any damn thing,” manager Charlie Manuel told reporters before the opener of a three-game series against the first-place Nationals. “If you want to try something, why not? You don’t have nothing to lose.”
Perhaps more surprising is that no one else was traded. Pitchers Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton, outfielder Juan Pierre and infielder Ty Wigginton garnered interest from other teams, but the cost-cutting Phillies didn’t get the return they wanted.
So, they jettisoned Victorino and Pence for now.
From the Dodgers, the Phillies got reliever Josh Lindblom and minor league pitcher Ethan Martin for Victorino, who can become a free agent after the season. Philadelphia also gets a player to be named or cash.
Trading the two-time All-Star center fielder made sense because Victorino didn’t fit into Philadelphia’s future plans. He’s making $9.5 million this season and will seek a lucrative long-term deal in free agency.
From the Giants, the Phillies received outfielder Nate Schierholtz, minor league catcher Tommy Joseph and minor league right-handed pitcher Seth Rosin for Pence. They also sent about $500,000 to the Giants.
Moving Pence helps the Phillies avoid paying the luxury tax this season and possibly next. It also could allow them to target other free agents in the offseason. The two-time All-Star right fielder is making $10.4 million this season and stands to get a raise in arbitration next year.
“Everything is understood,” Pence said. “The Phillies are going in a different direction. We had a great run at it. Now I’m going a different way.”
This was quite the contrast from the way the Phillies handled the trade deadline the last three years. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired Lee in 2009, Roy Oswalt in 2010 and Pence last year.
But these aren’t the same Phillies who won a World Series in 2008, won the NLCS in 2009 and finished with the best record in the majors in 2010 and 2011.
With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, their Nos. 3-4 hitters, missing nearly the entire first half and ace Roy Halladay sidelined two months, the Phillies struggled mightily. They are 17-32 since June 1.
“Absolutely no chance if you would’ve told me at the beginning of the season that on July 31, I’d be traded and Hunter Pence would be traded,” Victorino said on MLB Network.
Only last week, it seemed the Phillies could make a run. They won four straight games in their final at-bat, including a three-game sweep over Milwaukee on the same day Cole Hamels signed a $144 million, six-year contract.
But the Phillies lost three in a row to wild card-leading Atlanta, forcing Amaro to rebuild.
“You don’t have anywhere to go but up,” Manuel said.
John Mayberry Jr. started in center field and Laynce Nix was in right field on Tuesday night. Domonic Brown, the Phillies’ top prospect, was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and will get a chance to play every day in the outfield. Schierholtz also will be at least part of a platoon.
Brown was expected to replace former All-Star Jayson Werth as the starting right fielder last year, but was injured in spring training. After returning, Brown hit just .245 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 54 games and struggled defensively. He lost his starting job when the Phillies acquired Pence from Houston, and was sent back to the minors.
The 24-year-old Brown hit .286 with five homers and 28 RBIs in 60 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
“It’s time to turn him loose and let him play,” Manuel said.
The Phillies are hoping this is a one-year aberration. If Halladay, Lee and Hamels pitch to form, the starting rotation still is one of the best in the majors. All-Star Jonathan Papelbon is a reliable closer, but giving him leads to protect has been a problem.
Lindblom should help in a setup role. The 25-year-old righty has a 3.02 ERA in 48 relief appearances this season.
Amaro will have plenty of work to do fixing the offense. Pence and Victorino were the two youngest starters in an aging lineup that has suffered from a drop-off in production from everyone except All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Joseph is valuable because he could help the Phillies get an outfielder or third baseman in a trade. Joseph was San Francisco’s No. 2 ranked prospect by Baseball America. He’s hitting .260 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 80 games for Double-A Richmond.
The Phillies already have one catching prospect at Double-A in Sebastian Valle, so it’s possible Joseph will be trade bait in the offseason.
It’s fitting the Phillies are playing the Nationals on a day they unload players. There’s been a changing of the guard in the NL East this season, and Washington is the new team on the rise.
“Our division has undergone a real sort of metamorphosis I think this year if you look at what Miami did in the offseason and now what they’ve done here during midseason,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “The same is true with the Phillies. On the other hand, Washington is playing very well. Atlanta continues to play well. But there’s certainly an appearance of change taking place in the division. I don’t think it’s totally unexpected. I mean, it’s difficult to be as successful as the Phillies have been over a long period of time, and I’m sure they have the ability to turn this season around in a hurry as well.”
Fans can only hope, or that long sellout streak will be in jeopardy and protesters may be joining the guy with the sign outside Citizens Bank Park.