July 31, 2012
Cubs Deal Soto, Maholm UPDATED AGAIN
The Rangers had the luxury of not having to make any deals, and they now have the luxury of taking the time to figure out how playing time will shake out with Geovany Soto in house. Yorvit Torrealba has been designated for assignment, so it’s pretty clear whose roster spot he’ll be taking, but Napoli has been handling the bulk of the duties at catcher for the Rangers so far. It’s possible that Soto will take an (expanded) backup role in Texas, catching when Napoli has a day off or is filling in at first or DH. Or Soto could take over the majority of catching, freeing Napoli to play other positions more often. If it’s the latter, the obvious choice would be to bench Michael Young; the sound you just heard was millions of sportswriters crying out in terror.
So far this season, Torrealba has actually edged out Soto in terms of offense, with a TAv of .240 to .223. Soto's PECOTA forecast, however, looks like an improvement over what either of them has done so far, while Torrealba's rest-of-season projection looks like a spitting image of what he's been doing all year. The Rangers are putting faith in the notion that Soto is a better player than he's been so far this year, and even if he doesn't recapture his impressive 2010 season, he should be an upgrade over what Torrealba is able to do. —Colin Wyers
The key to this deal from the Braves’ perspective is Paul Maholm, who has been a serviceable left-handed innings eater for most of his career. He wasn’t the Braves’ first choice of Cubs starters, and he may not have even been their second (with Garza being on the trading block before his arm injury), but he’ll add stability to a rotation that could use some shoring up. There’s no word yet on who he’ll be displacing from the rotation. Reed Johnson is, for the Braves, a nice player to have on the bench but not one who’s going to find himself a lot of playing time with Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward holding down all the three starting outfield spots. He’s versatile and there’s still a little something left in his bat, though, so he will fill the fourth outfielder spot pretty well for the Braves. Given uninspiring performances by Jose Constanza and Matt Diaz, that’s not a bad thing for the club to have, but it’s unlikely to make the difference in terms of making the playoffs. —Colin Wyers
Acquired RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman from the Atlanta Braves for LHP Paul Maholm and OF-R Reed Johnson. [7/30]
How things change. Up until now it had been a pretty quiet trade deadline for the Cubs, with Dempster refusing to be traded to Atlanta and Garza’s arm injury taking him off the trading block. They seem to have found a way around their two best trading chips being unmovable, and after two televised hugs the roster shakeup everyone was expecting is finally underway.
Catcher was a somewhat deep position for the Cubs heading into this season, even if a spate of injuries left them so depleted they had to exhume the corpse of Koyie Hill for a farewell tour. Soto was the oldest and most expensive of the group, so he was always the most likely to be moved. This frees up playing time for Wellington Castillo and Steve Clevenger to make their case for being the starter going forward.
Maholm isn’t a guy the Cubs are going to miss, mostly because fighting the Astros for the top draft pick is probably more important to their long-term future than anything else they could be doing right now. And Reed Johnson is a nice fourth outfielder, but the Cubs have little use for one of those either. The 2012 Cubs will be worse without both of them, but they aren’t good with them, so no damage done. They don’t have a lot of prospects that were being blocked by these two, so don’t expect much excitement from their replacements (although with Brett Jackson being pulled from the game in Triple-A Iowa, he might be taking Reed’s spot on the roster, which would excite Cubs fans who pay attention to prospects).
UPDATE 9:52am Central: The Cubs officially announced the Soto deal, and it appears they'll be getting either a Player To Be Named Later or cash along with Brigham to finish the deal. It's hard to say much, except the sorts of PTBNL that can be replaced with cash considerations are typically not all that impressive. But it does sweeten the deal a little from their perspective.
Vizcaino entered the year as the no. 3 prospect in the Atlanta system and the no. 62 on the Top 101. He was expected to break camp with the Braves after an impressive late-season showing in 2011, but he suffered an elbow injury that has cost him the entire season; he should be ready to pitch sometime in early 2013. Despite being just six feet tall, Vizcaino has a lightening quick arm and sat at 96 mph in short stints while touching 98. His power curveball sits in the low-80s, features heavy late break, and gives him a second outpitch that he'll use at any point in the count. He has a rarely used below-average changeup, and the effort in his delivery creates some command issues. Originally developed as a starter, Vizcaino had a history of arm problems before the surgery and has never thrown more than 120 innings in a season. Now an undersized pitcher with an injury history and far from a pretty delivery, everything points to Vizcaino becoming a permanent reliever, but if his stuff comes all the way back, he's potentially closer-worthy.
A 16th-round pick in 2005, Chapman is an undersized right-hander who is in his seventh minor league season while being developed solely as a reliever. He has an average fastball that sits at 89-92 mph and a fringy breaking ball, but he has a true plus changeup that he uses as an outpitch. Already 25 years old and lacking anything in the way of projection, his best chance is as an up-and-down reliever.
While hardly a top prospect, the Cubs got a surprisingly solid arm in return for Soto. A sixth-round pick in 2006 out of a Florida high school, Brigham has been slow to develop in a career that includes a 2008 Tommy John surgery. Repeating Double-A this year, Brigham has better peripherals than his 4.28 ERA suggests, giving up less than a hit per inning with 116 strikeouts and 46 walks in 124 innings. He has a solid fastball that ranges from 91-95 mph, but he can get loose with the pitch up in the zone and gives up too many home runs as a result. His primary secondary pitch is a low-80s slider that rates as average, and while he has a changeup, it's a below-average pitch. He projects as an innings-eating no. 4 or 5 starter or a solid middle reliever. He looks like a big leaguer, just not an impact one. —Kevin Goldstein
Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @cwyers