Reed Johnson of the Chicago Cubs gets congratulated by Darwin Barney after making a catch against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
If there had been any more hugs in the Cubs dugout Monday night, you might have thought a group therapy session had broken out.
Reed Johnson had reached on an error to lead off the Cubs' nine-run fifth inning (yes, you read that right -- a nine-run inning, the team's biggest of the year), but by the time his turn came up for the second time in the inning, hugs had been exchanged and he was replaced by David DeJesus. Johnson -- and lefthander Paul Maholm -- had been traded to the Atlanta Braves for two young pitchers, Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman, in a deal confirmed by a Cubs press release. Vizcaino is the prize here, a 21-year-old power pitcher who had Tommy John surgery earlier this year and is expected to be ready for 2013.
Later, Geovany Soto took his turn in the hug line; he's reportedly been sent to the Texas Rangers for another pitching prospect, this one of lower level, Jacob Bingham, a 24-year-old righthander who's in his second season at Double-A.
For all of you who were expressing so much angst over the Cubs' apparent failure to do something before the deadline, now they have, and the return, at the very least, gives the Cubs organizational pitching depth; at most, they might have a future closer or even top starting pitcher in Vizcaino.
And they might not be done. Rumors were flying Monday night that Ryan Dempster might still find himself a member of the Dodgers Tuesday instead of making his scheduled start against the Pirates at Wrigley, and that the Reds had inquired about Matt Garza.
The Cubs, after blasting the Pirates 14-4, are 19-10 over their last 29 games, among the top records in baseball since June 24 (only the Braves, Reds and A's are better). But if they wind up trading Garza and Dempster as well as Maholm, who's going to start the rest of the year?
I know, I know. This year doesn't matter, and even if we're going to see games started by the likes of Casey Coleman (who was reportedly on his way to Chicago), Chris Volstad, Rodrigo Lopez or guys who have not yet appeared in a Cubs uniform like Brooks Raley or Chris Rusin, the point is to build for next year and beyond.
I confess that the trade of Maholm surprises me. He had a team-friendly option for $6.5 million for 2013, and of course you know about his excellent performance over the last month. At 30, he could have been a part of Cubs teams for several years to come, a solid No. 3 starter. Theo & Jed must have felt the upside of Vizcaino was worth it.
The Cubs will miss Reed Johnson, but he's 35 years old and not part of the club's future, although nothing precludes the possibility that he could return as an outfield backup in 2013. I always enjoyed watching Reed play and there's no doubt he gave everything he had every time he walked on to the field. I hope he (and Maholm) have a deep run into the postseason this year; he certainly deserves the opportunity.
For Geovany Soto, the emotions are mostly those of disappointment; after his Rookie-of-the-Year season in 2008, I think we all hoped the Cubs had solved their catching problems for up to a decade. He did have a decently productive season again in 2010, but could never stay healthy -- his 141 games played in 2008 were the most he played in a single season -- and this year, his offense declined to a .631 OPS, his worst as a Cub. He'll get a fair amount of playing time in Texas, where it appears the Rangers want to give Mike Napoli some time at DH. The Rangers, of course, are also likely headed to the postseason -- so Soto, Maholm and Johnson can all thank Theo & Jed for sending them to the possibility of getting a ring. In the meantime, we're going to get to see two young catchers -- Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo, who was reportedly on his way to Chicago -- play the rest of this year.
Brett Jackson was pulled from Monday night's Iowa Cubs game and rumor had it that he, too, might be on his way to Chicago to replace Johnson, though that was not confirmed and it's also possible that Dave Sappelt might be the outfielder replacement for Reed.
Which, of course, is the whole reason Theo & Jed are here -- to put together Cubs teams that will have a shot at those rings... hopefully, not too many years from now.
Oh, yes, the game. The Cubs scored a season-high 14 runs, thanks mostly to three home runs, off the bats of Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Castro and Barney had three hits each and Barney actually came up in the eighth inning needing a double to hit for the cycle; he had a nine-pitch at-bat, running the count full before being called out on strikes. Justin Germano threw a credible five innings; he, too, will likely wind up in the rotation for the rest of the season, particularly if either Garza or Dempster or both is traded today.
In 2006, Jim Hendry, in a series of mostly-minor deals off that year's awful 96-loss Cubs team, sent five different players to the postseason: Scott Williamson and Todd Walker (Padres), Greg Maddux (Dodgers), Phil Nevin (Twins) and Neifi Perez, who went to the World Series with the Tigers. Hendry didn't get much in return for those players, but the 2007 Cubs unexpectedly went to the postseason. I'm not saying that could happen with the 2013 Cubs, but it does appear that at least right now, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made a good start in attempting to bring the Cubs back to postseason play. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long.