July 2012

7/31 Dempster moves on

The Cubs’ deal with the Rangers for Ryan Dempster was finalized less than five minutes before the 3 p.m. Trade Deadline. Dempster wanted to go to the Dodgers but when no trade was possible, he gave Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer other teams, which opened the door for the Yankees and Rangers.

“Once the Dodgers were out, there were two teams that got in on it and the Rangers moved really fast,” Dempster said. “They obviously have a very good team and I’m going to go down there and hopefully be a small piece of what they have going there. They’re in first place and proven winners the last couple years. I’m going to go down there and hopefully sneak in the back door and try to blend in and do my job when asked to do my job.”

Now that the Trade Deadline has passed, Dempster said he felt relief.

“There’s definitely a lot of excitement to go to a first place team and a winner,” he said. “There’s some tough feelings and emotions. I played here for a long time and I pitched a lot of games on that mound. It’ll be weird not putting on that Cubs uniform.”

He had talked to Greg Maddux, now on the Rangers front office, in Spring Training, and the former Cubs pitcher raved about Texas manager Ron Washington.

Dempster sat in Hoyer’s office while the details were finalized.

“Within a matter of minutes, before the Trade Deadline, I was a Texas Ranger,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat

7/31 Dempster to Rangers

Ryan Dempster apparently said yes to the Rangers. The Cubs’ makeover continued Tuesday when they traded Dempster to the defending American League champions, finalizing the deal minutes before the 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline. The Cubs get two Class A players in return.

The 35-year-old right-hander, who ranks among the National League leaders with a 2.25 ERA, had favored a deal to the Dodgers but apparently altered his wish list. The Yankees also were believed to be in talks with the Cubs. <p> The Cubs thought they had a deal last week which would’ve sent Dempster to the Braves but the right-hander exercised his 10-and-5 rights (10 years of service, five with the same team) and rejected that move. He had given Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, a list of teams he would prefer.

Dempster will be a pure rental. Players must be with a team for an entire season in order to qualify for draft-pick compensation. This is in the last year of his four-year contract with the Cubs, which was paying him $14 million this season. His career has come full circle. Dempster was selected by the Rangers in the third round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft by the Rangers, then traded in ’96 to the Marlins.

— Carrie Muskat 

7/31 Minor League report

Jim Adduci hit his second home run in Iowa’s 5-3 loss to New Orleans. Chris Rusin took the loss, giving up one earned run on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, striking out six.

Greg Rohan hit his fifth home run in Tennessee’s 6-3 win over Pensacola in the first game of a doubleheader. Eric Jokisch picked up the win, giving up three runs over seven innings. Matt Szczur had three hits. In the second game, Casey Weathers picked up the win, throwing a scoreless fifth, in a 3-2 victory. Frank Batista posted his 19th save.

P.J. Francescon threw six shutout innings in Daytona’s 8-4 win over Ft. Myers. Rubi Silva had three hits and one RBIs.

Zeke DeVoss hit his fourth home run in Peoria’s 5-3 loss to Beloit. Javier Baez had another hit, and was batting .363 in July.

— Carrie Muskat

7/31 Roster moves

Expect catcher Welington Castillo, infielder Adrian Cardenas and pitcher Casey Coleman to join the Cubs Tuesday night in Chicago. With the loss of Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto, the Cubs need a backup catcher, another starter and a utility player. Castillo was batting .260 in 44 games with six home runs, six doubles and 22 RBIs for Iowa. Coleman was 2-4 with a 5.01 ERA in 11 games (nine starts) for Iowa. Cardenas was batting .322 in 56 games with Iowa, hitting two home runs, 20 doubles, and four triples. All three have had brief callups with the Cubs.

Steve Clevenger was expected to take over as the Cubs regular catcher.

“I’ll just prepare myself every day like I’ve been doing,” Clevenger said. “I’m not taking anything for granted. I’ll go out and play the game hard like I was playing before. Other than that, just try to win.”

— Carrie Muskat

7/31 Dempster & the Dodgers

The Dodgers acquired outfielder Shane Victorino from the Phillies on Tuesday but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal says Los Angeles is not done improving its roster. Rosenthal reports the Dodgers are focused on Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster and want him before today’s 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline. Dempster was scheduled to start Tuesday night for the Cubs against the Pirates. However, the Cubs were expected to have pitcher Casey Coleman in Chicago as a contingency plan. Dempster has hinted he’d prefer to go to the Dodgers. As a player with 10-and-5 rights, he has veto power.

— Carrie Muskat

7/31 The Braves’ take on Cubs deal

Ryan Dempster’s decision to block a deal to the Braves may have benefitted Atlanta. One week ago, the Cubs and Braves had a deal in place which would’ve sent Dempster to Atlanta for 22-year-old pitcher Randall Delgado. But Dempster apparently exercised his 10-and-5 rights, and said no. Now, the Braves have a starting pitcher and an experience right-handed bat on the bench after Monday night’s deal which sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta for two Minor League pitchers. The Cubs are looking to the future. They get heralded right-handed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino and Minor League right-hander Jaye Chapman.

“It was a perfect fit for us,” Braves GM Frank Wren told reporters in Atlanta Monday night, including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. “We got two real key pieces for us that we were looking for.   If we are done, if nothing else materializes for us [Tuesday], we’ll be very happy with where we are right now.”

Vizcaino, ranked as the Braves’ third-best prospect by MLB.com, is a hard-throwing right-hander who spent the final two months of the 2011 season in Atlanta’s bullpen.  He underwent Tommy John surgery in March. Once he is healthy, the 21- year-old hurler has the potential to be a dominant force at the back end of the bullpen or possibly a starting pitcher.

“He’s a good-looking young pitcher and we gave up a quality prospect,” Wren said. “But to not give up some of the guys that have been mentioned, that was a real plus for us.  The Cubs are in a different spot than we’re in.  They’re looking for  a long-range young pitcher that they can hold on to for a long time. We’re in a spot where we feel like we have a team that can win.”

When the Braves began their search for a starting pitcher, they put Zack Greinke at the top of their wish list. It appeared they had Dempster but once he rejected that deal, the Braves began looking at other options. Maholm is 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts.

“The thing that kept coming back from scouts is that he is not going to give in,” Wren said. “When I say that, he’s not going to throw a fastball just because he’s behind in the count.  He’s not going to throw you a fastball in fastball counts.  He’s going to pitch his game and he’s been very good at that.”

The Cubs also will send some cash to the Braves. Maholm isn’t just a rental; he has a $6.5 million option for the 2013 season.  His presence allows the Braves the choice to send Kris Medlen back to the bullpen after he makes his first start of the year on Tuesday.

Wren said he tried to acquire Johnson before last year’s Trade Deadline and has always liked the talented outfielder.  With some uncertainty surrounding Matt Diaz’s injured right thumb, the Braves had an even greater need to acquire Johnson this year. Johnson has batted .307 with three home runs and a .807 OPS in 166 at-bats with the Cubs this season.  The 35-year-old outfielder has batted .280 with a .743 OPS in 161 career pinch-hit at-bats.

“He gives you a professional at-bat and he plays the game the right way,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to find right-handed hitters who can play center field and left field as well.  With our club, that is so important. We need another right- handed hitter that you feel comfortable to put out there for a number of at-bats.”

— Carrie Muskat

7/31 Soto to Rangers

It’s now official. Geovany Soto moved up in the standings, traded by the Cubs to the Rangers for Minor League right-handed pitcher Jake Brigham and a player to be named or cash consideration. Soto, 29, has been in the Cubs system since he was drafted in 2001. The trade was reported Monday night as Soto was pulled from the game after the Pirates sixth inning, but wasn’t finalized until Tuesday morning.

As he left the game Monday, Soto was greeted in the dugout by handshakes and hugs from his teammates. He was batting .199 this season in 52 games this season. He missed time because of a torn meniscus in his left knee. The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, Soto was being paid $4.3 million this year, and on track to go to arbitration for the third time this offseason.

“When you get a good feel with a catcher, that’s hard to replace,” Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “We’ll make sure we get [Steve Clevenger] back there to catch all my flat grounds and my bullpens.”

The defending American League champion Rangers lead the West division by 3 1/2 games.

The Cubs were expected to call up catcher Welington Castillo from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday with Clevenger taking over as the regular catcher. Clevenger was in the weight room, preparing in case he was needed to pinch hit when he got word that he had to get into the game to catch.

“It was a little strange, a little weird,” Clevenger said about Monday’s game. “Geo’s always been good to me. I’ve been with the Cubs since ’06, and in big league camp since ’08, and he always treated me really well. I’m going to miss him. I learned a lot for him and he treated me well.”

Brigham, 24, was 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A Frisco this season. He went 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA (16 ER/40.0 IP) in 21 relief outings last season. In 2012, Brigham was named to the mid-season Texas League All-Star team.

He was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of Central Florida Christian Academy in Orlando, Fla. In 135 Minor League appearances, Brigham is 27-42 with one save and a 4.40 ERA.

— Carrie Muskat

7/30 Angry Barney

When Darwin Barney hit his three-run home run in the fourth, it looked like he was yelling something at the Pirates dugout as he broke into his trot. But he wasn’t upset with the Pirates; he was mad at himself.

“I was upset at myself for not turning the double play,” Barney said of a play in the Pirates fourth. “I was angry the whole at-bat at myself. That’s all I could think about because of the bobble. That’s a crucial turn there and I didn’t do it. When I hit that home run, I was still almost yelling at myself, I was so pumped up that I could come through like that. I made sure to say a couple things to a couple of [the Pirates] so they knew I was mad at myself for botching that double play. I had nothing to gesture toward you guys. I didn’t want them to think I was trying to show anybody up.”

The bobble came when the Pirates had the bases loaded and one out in the fourth. Michael McKenry hit a grounder to third baseman Joe Mather who threw to Barney, but he couldn’t turn the double play. A run scored on the fielder’s choice, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. That was short-lived as the Cubs romped, 14-4.

— Carrie Muskat

7/30 Johnson, Maholm gone

The Cubs made some in-game lineup changes Monday night. Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto were both pulled from Monday’s game, but the Cubs would only confirm that Johnson and Paul Maholm were headed to the Braves. Soto is reportedly being traded to the Rangers, although that deal was still pending approval.

Johnson, 35, started in center field against the Pirates and scored two runs but was pulled for a pinch-hitter for his second at-bat. He went through the dugout and shook hands with his teammates, hugged a few of the players, and then exited. The veteran was batting .302 this season, including a .333 average against left-handed pitching. Soto, 29, who has been in the Cubs system since he was drafted in 2001. He was pulled after the Pirates sixth inning, and also greeted in the dugout by handshakes and hugs from his teammates. Soto was batting .199 this season in 52 games this season. He missed time because of a torn meniscus in his left knee. Maholm is 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts, and 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA overall.

“You hate to be pulling guys out of games,” Hoyer said. “It isn’t comfortable to go down there and make moves. I don’t like to make lineup changes.”

“I can’t lie to you, it was the first time I’ve ever gone through that,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs will receive Minor League right-handed pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman from the Braves in return. Chapman, 25, was 3-6 with seven saves and a 3.52 ERA in 40 games with Triple-A Gwinnett. Vizcaino, 21, may be the prize in the deal. A power arm, he was ranked as the second-best prospect by Baseball America. He made his big league debut with the Braves last season, and was 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA in 17 relief outings. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery which he had in March.

“We’ve been really clear all along that we’re not contending right now and we need to take assets that are shorter term and turn them into longer term assets,” Hoyer said Monday night.

The Trade Deadline is Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT.

— Carrie Muskat

7/30 Barney wins Heart & Hustle award

Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney was named winner of the Heart and Hustle Award, which honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit, and tradition of the game. It’s presented by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. Former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas made the presentation on Monday at Wrigley Field.

One player from each Major League team is chosen by the MLBPAA committee, and fans, all alumni and active players will vote to select the final winner. Previous overall winners are Craig Biggio (2006, 2007), Grady Sizemore (2008), Albert Pujols (2009), Roy Halladay (2010), and Torii Hunter (2011). The final winner will be announced Nov. 13.

— Carrie Muskat