Despite sitting comfortably in second place in the NL East and in control of their own post season fate thanks to the second Wild Card that was added this year, the Atlanta Braves have made no secret to their pursuit of an upgrade to their starting rotation. Late Monday night that search seems to have finally been addressed as word came out that the team had (finally) completed a deal with the Chicago Cubs that would bring them left-hander Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson. In return, the Cubs will get a pair of right-handers in Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman.
To say that the Braves needed to acquire a starting pitcher seems a little unusual at first, but thanks to injury and ineffectiveness the once deep pitching staff has been struggling for nearly all of the 2012 season. Entering Spring Training an argument could have been made that the Braves actually possessed the most MLB-ready pitching depth in the Major Leagues considering they had the following options to evaluate for spots in the rotation – Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Vizcaino, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlan. Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however.
Vizcaino was lost for the season to Tommy John Surgery before the Spring ended. Beachy would go under the same procedure in mid-June, after leading the National League in ERA prior to his injury. Hudson missed some time early on, but has since returned.
Jurrjens pitched so poorly he had to be sent back to Triple-A, before eventually returning to the rotation. Teheran has pitched so poorly in Triple-A that he hasn’t even been discussed as an option at the Major League level.
Hanson has pitched well this year, leading the pitching staff in a number of statistical categories. Hudson has thrown well since his return. Minor and Delgado have held their own. The team ended up signing Ben Sheets, who hadn’t thrown a pitch in two years, to round on their rotation. Maholm will help lengthen that group for the remainder of the season and also offers a second left-hander arm to mix into the group in addition to Minor.
He’d spent his whole career in the NL, having spent his first six seasons with Pittsburgh before signing with the Cubs this past winter. Through 21 appearances (20 starts), the 30 year old is 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA and a career low 1.238 WHIP. Maholm’s contract also contains a team option for 2013, valued at $6.5 Million, which gives the Braves an opening to retain his services beyond just the next two months if they so choose to. It’s presumed that he’ll slide into the rotation, potentially pushing Delgado into a bullpen role for the time being.
Johnson, meanwhile, has played all three outfield positions for the Cubs this year and has batted .302/.355/.444 in 183 plate appearances this year. It’s uncertain who he replaces on Atlanta’s bench, but adding Johnson should provide an upgrade to the team’s options late in games as well.
Vizcaino is the big name heading to Chicago in the deal. He was originally the big piece the Braves had acquired when they dealt Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees in December 2009. The 21 year old made his MLB Debut late last summer, appearing in 17 games for the Braves before the season concluded. But after suffering from the elbow injury this Spring it was known that he’d be lost for the year. Despite that fact, the Cubs still maintained interest in acquiring him as the headlining piece to this trade. Vizcaino should be healthy come next Spring Training, so it’s entirely possible he could be a factor for the Cubs’ starting rotation at that point in time.
Chapman is a 25 year old reliever who’s spent the year with Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate. The former 2005 Draft pick (16th Round) holds a 3.52 ERA and 10.1 K/9 over 53.2 innings of work on the year.
In the short term, Atlanta’s in a better position for the remainder of the 2012 season. Maholm give the organization another experienced left-handed arm. He’s never fared well against Washington, however, holding a 1-5 record and 5.56 ERA in nine career starts against the Nationals. Johnson helps lengthen the bench with a versatile outfielder who can still get on base.