Cubs trade Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson plus cash considerations to Atlanta for SP Arodys Vizcaino and RP Jaye Chapman

Paul Maholm was the hottest pitcher in baseball during the last month plus, holding a 1.00 ERA over his last 6 starts and a relief appearance (45IP).  With a club option for next year, Maholm was one of the few controllable pitchers on the market.  Reed Johnson is the perfect outfielder off the bench for a contending team, he won’t disrupt a locker room, he hits lefties very well, holds his own versus righties, and plays average to above average defense at all three outfield positions.  The combination of the two yielded two of the Braves pitching prospects.

Jaye Chapman is a throw in type with a future of a middle reliever.  The centerpiece of the deal was Arodys Vizcaino, who was ranked as the 14th best prospect in all of baseball going into the season by Keith Law.  However, an elbow injury that occurred in 2010 flared up again during Spring Training forcing Vizcaino to have Tommy John Surgery.  TJS is not the arm-killer it once was but there is still considerable risk.  With the Cubs lacking any type of starting pitching depth in the minors, Theo and Co. decided it was worth the gamble.  When healthy, Vizcaino has ace potential – he features a mid 90s fastball, a dominant curveball, and a solid changeup.   Health has been the major concern with him, and ultimately Vizcaino could end up a closer.  He will be slotted as the Cubs top pitching prospect, most likely still in the top 50 or 75 best prospects in all of baseball, and is expected to be ready for Spring Training next year.

Conclusion:  The Cubs flipped two guys they signed in the off-season for a 21 year old potential frontline starting pitcher plus bullpen depth.  Great move even before Reed declared he wanted to return to Chicago next year.

Grade:  A-

Cubs trade Geovany Soto plus cash considerations to Texas for SP Jacob Brigham

Soto has been up and down during his Cubs career. He came out of nowhere to win rookie of the year in 2008.  He followed that up with a very disappointing 2009 to only bounce back in 2010 with a .280/.393/.497 line that was the top offensive performance among all regular catchers. He cashed in on the year during arbitration getting a raise up to 3 million.   Since then, he’s been pretty bad to put it kindly.  Last year, he posted a .228/.310/.411 line and so far this year he followed it up with a .199/.284/.347.  On top of his inconsistency, he’s been unable to stay healthy.  Since playing in 141 games in 08′, he played in only 102 games in 09′, 105 games in 10′, 125 games last year, and had already missed 38 games out of 92 this year.  While his production and health have declined, his price continued to rise.  He’s making 4.2M this year with another potential raise coming in his final year of arbitration next year.  Instead of overpaying Soto and hoping he regains his 2008/2010 form or non-tendering him during the off-season the Cubs found a team willing to take a chance on Soto as a back up in Texas. Even more importantly, Texas’ own under-performing starting catcher Mike Napoli, is a free agent after this season, which gives Soto a chance to become their starter next year.  For Soto, I think that’s a great move as he will artificially inflate his offensive numbers in Arlington and could setup himself up nicely for a large payday in free agency… you know, if he can stay healthy.

The Cubs in return received Jacob Brigham a 24 year old right handed pitcher in AA.  Brigham has a lively arm, with a fastball that can reach 97. He also throws a good-but-inconsistent curve ball and has a work-in-progress changeup.  Command of his off-speed pitches is holding him back and the changeup may never be good enough to rely on at the major league level.  He has back end starter potential but is most likely another bullpen arm.  His stuff is good enough that he could end up a setup pitcher or closer.

Conclusion:  Barring a resurgence at the end of this year, I would have bet Soto would have been non-tendered this off-season as he makes far more than he is worth.  Moving Soto opened the door for Welington Castillo who has been waiting for his opportunity.  The Cubs did well to find a team willing to offer a prospect of some value.

Grade: B

Cubs trade Dempster to Texas for 3B Christian Villanueva and SP Kyle Hendricks

I wrote recently about Ryan Dempster here, so I will just focus on the trade; but first, the trade that didn’t happen.  The Cubs had a deal in place to land Randall Delgado from the Braves but Dempster wanted to give the Dodgers more time to meet the Cubs’ asking price. Dempster never formally rejected the Braves trade, but he did delay his decision past the window thus killing the trade.  Delgado, a potential #3 starter, would have been a steal for the Cubs but also would have nixed the Maholm/Johnson trade that yielded Vizcaino.  I’d prefer Vizcaino because he has a higher ceiling but there’s a lot more risk there as Delgado is healthy and would have slid right into our rotation this season.

As for the trade the Cubs did pull off, they received two players in A-ball, a third baseman blocked by Adrian Beltre and stud prospect Mike Olt plus another throw-in type pitcher.  Kyle Hendricks, 22, lacks raw stuff but has good command of his pitches.  He sits 87-89 with his fastball and he also throws a changeup, cutter, slider, and curveball.  None of his pitches are “plus” but he can locate all 5 in the strike zone.  He’s been a consistent overachiever when you look at his numbers in the minors.  His ceiling is a fringy 5th starter/middle reliever.  When I read up on him, Casey Coleman jumped to mind. If he continues to outperform his stuff, he’s a good bet to be a useful backend starter.

The real prospect of the deal is Christian Villanueva, a converted SS that has a plus glove at third. He is ranked #100 in BA’s top 100.  He is expected to hit for average but at this point has minimal power.  He has the chance to grow into some power and should develop into a solid everyday major leaguer.  Kevin Goldstein said he’s not as good as a prospect as Josh Vitters currently is, but Keith Law seemed to prefer Villanueva during an interview on ESPN1000 yesterday.

Conclusion: Dempster killed the Cubs leverage and a much better trade but the Cubs did well getting a decent return from Texas for what is still a two month rental in the middle of a career year.  The Delgado trade would have easily been an A, this trade without context is probably a B-, but knowing the circumstances…

Grade:  B+

Cubs keep Alfonso Soriano for the time being…

At some point on Tuesday morning, rumors swirled that Soriano would not go to San Francisco and the Cubs fans’ hatred for him started spewing on forums and twitter.  There was never a deal attached to Soriano to the Giants, just that Soriano blocked that team specifically.  After the deadline passed, it came out that Soriano would only go to one west coast team – the Dodgers – because of the distance away from his family. He was willing to go to multiple east coast contenders but no deal was made.

The Cubs will continue shopping Soriano this month as he will clear waivers.  I still don’t think they should trade him and pay all of his contract if we do not get a good prospect in return as he’s still not blocking anyone and is a far better option in LF than Bryan LaHair, which by now should be pretty clear (more on LaHair below).  If Soriano can produce the first half of next season, the Cubs should have a lot more teams interested in his services with only one year left on his deal instead of two.

One other interesting tidbit.  As of today, Soriano has produced 18.5 WAR.  Using Fangraph’s 5M/WAR value on free agent signings, Soriano’s production has been worth 92.5M, while he has been paid exactly 92M.  For the Soriano contract to break even he would need to produce another 9 WAR over the last 2+ years he’s under contract.  Highly unlikely, but the contract has not been the albatross it’s always made out to be.

Grade: C+

Matt Garza, too

Despite the injury, both the Blue Jays and D’Backs tried to acquire Garza at the deadline but neither was willing to meet the Cubs asking price.  Considering the Cubs and Garza’s agent have not had any negotiations at all since the Spring, it’s pretty clear they are dead set on trading him.  His value should still be pretty high in the offseason as long as he pitches well and stays healthy the rest of the year.  It’s a shame that the injury sprung up when it did as Garza would have had many suitors at the deadline and quickened the rebuilding process the Cubs are in.

Grade: C

Cubs other keepers

There’s three guys specifically that I wanted to see moved who weren’t:  Bryan LaHair, Jeff Baker, and Darwin Barney.  We will start with LaHair.  I was hoping the Cubs could cash in on his early success but when you hit .209/.278/.321 over the last 60 games you’re not going to be all that valuable.  At this point the Cubs are probably better off hoping he gets hot at the end of the year and try to move him for something in the offseason.

Grade: C

Jeff Baker is a curious case.  Every season you hear how teams are interested because he crushes lefties, plays multiple positions, and is a cheap contract but every year he’s still with the Cubs after the deadline.  I expected Baker to be used as a “sweetener” to add to a deal and get a better prospect but that didn’t happen.  Baker is a free agent after this season, so I am not sure why the Cubs did not go out of their way to move him before we risk losing him for nothing.

Grade: F

Barney is what he is.  A good defensive 2B with a very weak bat.  His defense has improved greatly this year.  Early in the season I was critical of Barney’s ability to go to his right and turn the double play, but since May I have noticed large improvements in both of these areas.  Offensively however, I see only minor improvement that I do not believe he can maintain.  His .268 average and .310 OBP are right around what you should expect, but his SLG% is up to .390 from last year’s .353 (his career minors SLG% is only .376 despite playing in the offensive heavy PCL for 2+ seasons). I don’t believe the minor power surge we’ve seen this year is sustainable.  Even with it, his Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) was 79 last year, and only up to 86 for this season.  As 100 is average, every point above or below is 1% better or worse at creating runs than league average.  That means Barney is 14% worse than league average offensively.  It’s not that I don’t like Darwin Barney, I just don’t like him being a franchise building block  (sorry Matt).  Barney’s a fine utility player and would have more value as full time SS, his natural position, but since there’s some guy named Starlin Castro there already, he’s forced to a position his bat just does not play.  You don’t need offensive from every position, but I would have liked to see the Cubs cash in on Barney when multiple contenders were looking for a middle infielder.  However, Barney is under control for 4 more seasons so there is no real urgency to move him.

Grade: C-

Overall, the Cubs did well at the deadline.  We turned a rental, two recent signings, and an underperforming overpaid player into useful prospects for the future.  I would have liked to see a few more moves but I’m happy with the trades the team did make.  As always let me know what you guys think in the comments.

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