Atlanta Braves improve after trade with Chicago Cubs

sports@macon.comJuly 31, 2012 

Sometimes the best trades are the one teams don’t make. That’s an old baseball saying that rings true once in a while.

Last week the Atlanta Braves were set to send young right-hander Randall Delgado to the Chicago Cubs for veteran Ryan Dempster. It would’ve been a high price for a rental. But for some reason, Dempster decided he didn’t want to go to Atlanta and vetoed the trade.

It was a blessing in disguise, as Monday the Braves got a pitcher from the Cubs who has arguably pitched even better than Dempster in the past month. Paul Maholm also can say something Dempster couldn’t say -- he actually wants to pitch for the Braves.

Maholm graduated from high school in Tennessee. He went to Mississippi State and still lives in the Magnolia State. So Maholm is from Braves country, and he’s going to be an important addition to the team.

No, he’s not Zack Greinke or Josh Beckett. But with what Maholm has done since the end of June, you might be glad the Braves struck out on those other, more heralded pitchers. Maholm has allowed only five earned runs in his past seven appearances, for a nifty ERA of 1.00.

He’ll join Tim Hudson, Ben Sheets, Mike Minor and now Kris Medlen in the rotation. And if Maholm can pitch even close to what he has been doing with the Cubs, the Braves are going to be better.

Atlanta also added Reed Johnson, a gritty right-handed hitter who can play all three outfield positions. He’ll instantly improve a bench that has been pretty horrible the past few months.

The price to get Maholm and Johnson, two players who can make Atlanta be better right now, was unbelievably good. The Braves gave up Triple-A reliever Jaye Chapman and injured prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

Think about that for a minute. To get a pitcher who can step into the rotation, someone who has more quality starts than anyone on the current staff, along with a very-needed reserve for the bench, the Braves gave up a marginal minor league reliever and an injured pitcher.

Vizcaino was not easy to give up. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the success rate for elbow repair is good. But Vizcaino probably won’t be ready to pitch at full strength until May, and it may take him even more time to be back pitching in the big leagues.

The Braves have tremendous depth in the current rotation and in the upper levels of the farm system. So even though there’s a good chance Vizcaino can come back and regain his mid-to-upper 90s mph fastball, the chance someone replaces him on the depth chart is pretty good.

The addition of Maholm could not come at a better time with Tuesday’s news that Tommy Hanson will miss two weeks with a back strain. There has been concern about Hanson, as it was obvious with a dip in his velocity that something was wrong. But the Braves are confident it is simply a non-serious back issue that will be taken care of with rest.

Atlanta is very lucky that Medlen can step in and replace Hanson, at least for a while. Remember, Medlen was a starter for this team two years ago before he went down with Tommy John surgery. He was pretty good, too, so there’s no reason to think Medlen can’t hold down the fort until Hanson gets back.

Let’s hope the Braves don’t rush Hanson and instead can just make sure he’s healthy and ready to go by the first of September, when the pennant race will be in the stretch run.

The next few weeks are going to be interesting. Atlanta will finish up this series against Miami and then play Houston, Philadelphia, the New York Mets and San Diego. All five of these teams are struggling and below .500, so the Braves have an excellent shot at making a run at first-place Washington.

And they’ll do it with a better roster. Maholm and Johnson were great pickups, and Atlanta has an improved chance now at being a playoff team than before the trade with Chicago.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on twitter@yahoo.com.

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