Well, the Braves landed a Cub after all. Two of them, in fact, neither being Ryan Dempster. But enough about him.
Just after midnight, the Braves announced they had acquired Paul Maholm, a left-handed starting pitcher, and Reed Johnson, a right-handed bat. Johnson will definitely help a bench that needs all the help it can get. Maholm can’t possibly hurt a rotation that wasn’t exactly brimming with excellence.
Maholm isn’t a No. 1 starter, but he was 9-6 with an ERA of 3.74 for a terrible team, and he has been really good of late: Over his past six starts, he has yielded one run at most. By way of contrast, Mike Minor is 6-7 with an ERA of 5.18, and Tommy Hanson, who’s 12-5, has an ERA of 4.29. Immediately after Hanson beat the Marlins on Monday, manager Fredi Gonzalez suggested the pitcher might need to skip a turn, which isn’t the most heartfelt vote of confidence.
Let’s be clear: This trade doesn’t transform the Braves — getting Zack Greinke would have transformed them — but it solidifies them for the remainder of the regular season and gives them choices should they make the playoffs, which they absolutely should. It’s not a move on the level of Fred McGriff in 1993 or even Michael Bourn last season or (gulp) Mark Teixeira in 2007, but it’s a needs-based trade made by a determined general manager whose first choice (Dempster) wouldn’t sanction the transaction.
Give Wren credit. He went back to the Cubs and found Theo Epstein willing to keep talking. (”We never blamed them for [Dempster's demurral],” Wren said.) Getting Dempster would have cost Randall Delgado. Getting Maholm and Johnson cost Jaye Chapman, which is no big deal, and Arodys Vizcaino, who has been the most tantalizing of the Braves’ four prized young arms. (The other two being Minor and Julio Teheran.)
Vizcaino, who’s 21, throws the hardest of all, but he underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the season. And yet: Before Monday’s game, Gonzalez was speaking of Ben Sheets actually gaining velocity after the TJ treatment. “Guys usually do,” Gonzalez said. “Can’t wait to see Vizcaino.”
The next time the Braves see Vizcaino, he’ll be a Cub. It hurts to lose an arm like that, but you that’s the price of doing business. The Braves had clear and immediate needs. Their GM has moved to fill those needs. Maybe this will work. Maybe it won’t. But it was a trade that had to be made.
“This was a perfect fit for us,” Wren said, and also this: “We wanted to put ourselves in as good a position as we can to win the division — not just make the playoffs.”
For sure, the Braves are better positioned today than they were at 7 p.m. Monday. Their rotation is deeper and better, and their bench is longer. They got an outfielder Wren called “the No. 1 [utility] guy on our board” and a starter who should push Kris Medlen back to the bullpen and perhaps ease the underwhelming Hanson out of any October starts.
Wren again: “What really pushed us [to make such a trade] is the way we’ve played the last three weeks.”
The season’s first half ended with the Braves feeling they hadn’t played to capacity. They’ve gotten closer since, and Maholm and Johnson should push them closer still. This is not a team to dismiss, ladies and gentlemen. This is a team that can get to October and stay there a while.
By Mark Bradley