CHICAGO (MCT) — While the Cubs were in the process of pounding the Pirates on Monday night, they quietly dismantled their victory machine.
Reed Johnson came out of Monday night’s game first, shortly after he and Starlin Castro had turned the niftiest of double plays on Pirates rookie Starling Marte. Geovany Soto then left the game, replaced by pinch hitter Steve Clevenger.
And at some point, Paul Maholm — who just became the only Cubs left-hander since 1900 to hold opponents to one run or fewer in six consecutive starts of at least six innings — asked Johnson what he knew about short-term leases in Atlanta. Well, he could have, anyway.
All had been traded, with fresh-faced, strong-armed kids acquired from the Braves and the Rangers.
The big name of the bunch is 21-year-old right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, who along with 25-year-old right-hander Jaye Chapman came from the Braves for Maholm and Johnson. He ranked as the Braves’ No. 2 prospect entering the season — ahead of the coveted Randall Delgado — but was shut down early for Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs also are getting right-hander Jacob Brigham, a Double-A starter for the Rangers, in exchange for Soto. You’d call it a pretty busy night at the office, although if it was a boxing match you’d also call it the undercard.
For President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, the main event is unfolding overnight and into the day on Tuesday. They remain determined to get something of value from the Dodgers for Ryan Dempster, who blocked the deal to the Braves for Delgado, but it’s unclear what leverage they have to do so if teams like the Nationals and Rangers aren’t still in play.
Manager Dale Sveum said Monday that he will “be surprised” if Dempster is still on the roster to make his Tuesday start.
“Just too many teams (need pitching),” he said. “Too good of a pitcher (not to be traded) ... Demp’s one of the biggest names out there.”
Of course, Epstein and Jed Hoyer are surprised to have Dempster, as they had him dealt to the Braves for Delgado before he flexed his 10/5 rights and killed the deal. Until Monday night, the Cubs had been spinning their wheels since.
Dempster and Matt Garza (who had a very strong day’s work in the bullpen Monday) aren’t the only big items left on the Cubs’ agenda. There have been reports that the Dodgers and Giants have some interest in Alfonso Soriano, who with $42 million left on his contract looks like an immovable object despite front-line production.
Jim Bowden, the former big league general manager who works for ESPN and SiriusXM, apparently suggested Monday that Soriano has blocked the Cubs’ efforts to deal him to the Giants. That strikes me as a stretch, as on Monday night a source close to the Cubs’ ownership said there had been no talk about paying Soriano to play elsewhere.
Epstein and Hoyer will feel they did well to get Vizcaino for Maholm, whom they signed to a one-year deal with a 2013 option last winter. When he was last seen on a diamond, Vizcaino threw in the mid-90s with both a plus curveball and the ability to run a four-seam fastball up to the high-90s. He’s expected to completely recover from elbow surgery, but the Cubs are taking a risk in getting him before he’s back on a mound.
He’s nowhere near as safe of a bet as Delgado would have been, but he might have a higher ceiling. That’s how I would sell this series of events if I worked for the Cubs, anyway.
It’s pretty remarkable that the Dempster derby could be one of the major stories in baseball.
After all, this is a 35-year-old who was 7-8 with a 4.98 ERA at this time last year. He’s improved wildly in his walk year, with fewer walks, hits and home runs allowed allowing him to cut his ERA to 2.25. That’s pretty phenomenal.
Dempster talked to reporters for a while Monday afternoon, and to me it sounds like he’s open to playing for teams other than the Dodgers, who are his preference, for unstated personal reasons. But his meaning was open to interpretation as he talked only in generalities.
To his credit, he didn’t complain when asked about the position he’s in, but the awkwardness of the last couple of weeks was evident to everyone in the room. He started to put up a stiff arm when asked if his situation was “tough” but decided not to pretend.
“No,” Dempster said at first. “I mean, I’m human too. It’s an emotional roller coaster sometimes.”
Epstein and Hoyer, you’d guess, could relate. And I know the team’s most loyal fans, the ones who suffered through 1969, ‘84 and ‘03, definitely can.