Bill Shanks

Braves make great trade to improve roster

The Braves used the pitching depth in the farm system Monday night to strengthen the big league roster. They acquired left-handed starting pitcher Paul Maholm and reserve outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs for minor league pitchers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino.

This is a great trade. Chapman is an interchangeable middle reliever. Give him credit; he’s pitched well the last two years to make himself a prospect. Chapman will pitch in the big leagues for Chicago, but guys like him can be a dime a dozen.

Vizcaino is hurt. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery and might not be back until the middle of next season. And then, he’ll have to prove he’s ready for the major leagues once again. He’s still going to have potential, considering the success rate of the surgery, but he’s a ways away from helping in the majors.

So the Braves kept the main pitching prospects – guys like Julio Teheran, Sean Gilmartin, Zeke Spruill, David Hale, J.R. Graham, Cody Martin, Aaron Northcraft and Gus Schlosser – and got two big pieces that can help the team for the final two months of the season.

Maholm is not an overpowering starting pitcher. He’s not a Josh Beckett or even a Ryan Dempster. But Maholm has been a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher on a lot of bad teams throughout his career. In fact, the Braves will be the first winning team he’s pitched on in his six-plus seasons in the majors.

The lefty signed with the Cubs this past offseason after six-plus years in Pittsburgh. He had two rough starts to begin the season (12 earned runs in eight innings), but since then Maholm has been outstanding. In his last 19 starts, Maholm is 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA. But he’s been even better recently, allowing just five earned runs in his last seven starts (ERA of 1.00 in 45 innings). He’s got 12 quality starts this season, which is three more than the leaders in Atlanta’s rotation (Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson).

Maholm will join Hudson, Hanson, Ben Sheets and Mike Minor in the Atlanta starting rotation. Kris Medlen will pitch Tuesday for the Braves, but he’s likely headed back to the bullpen.

Maholm has pitched well in his career against Atlanta. He’s 3-1 with a 1.36 ERA in eight starts against the Braves. It’s actually the best ERA against any opponent in his career. He beat the Braves back on July 4 with six strong innings in the Cubs 5-1 victory. Maholm has a 1.69 ERA in five career starts at Turner Field.

 Johnson is going to significantly upgrade Atlanta’s bench. He’s a right-handed hitter that can play all three outfield positions. This season in 166 at bats, Johnson is hitting .307 with a .361 on base percentage. He’s hit .333 against left-handed pitchers this season and has hit even better on the road (.387) than at Wrigley Field (.275).

As a pinch-hitter this season, Johnson has hit .448 (13-29) with a home run and five runs batted in. With Matt Diaz possibly out for the season, the Braves had to get another right-handed hitting reserve outfielder.

Expect the Braves to use Johnson to spell Martin Prado, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward, who are all in need of a day off soon.

Johnson is a free agent at the end of this season. If he does well, the Braves may want to have him back as a reserve, considering all the money coming off the books for Atlanta this offseason.

Maholm has a $6.5 million option for the 2013 season. Atlanta can buy him out for $500,000, but if Maholm does well he’ll have decent value. For instance, let’s say he wins six games for Atlanta in the next two months. That would make him a 15-game winner, and 15-game winners that make ‘only’ $6.5 million have pretty decent value.

The Braves could elect to keep him, or they could put him in a trade. Either way, he’ll have value if he does well. If he struggles, the Braves could just elect to let him walk away and pay the buyout.

But the great thing about this deal is the price. Think back to a week ago when it was rumored the Braves were getting Ryan Dempster from the Cubs for Randall Delgado. Dempster thankfully vetoed the trade. He’s a potential free agent at the end of the year, and it’s doubtful he would have re-signed with Atlanta if he had accepted the deal.

Giving up Delgado for two-plus months of Dempster made zero sense. Delgado was pretty decent in the Atlanta rotation this season. He’s a 22-year-old kid who had some growing pains, but he was not an embarrassment at all. In fact, if Delgado had gotten any run support from his teammates, he could arguably be closer to .500 instead of 4-9 on the season.

Now, the Braves can keep Delgado and either give him another shot in the rotation next season or use him in a trade this offseason. Either way, they protected his value by not putting him in this deal with the Cubs Monday night.

And again, to give up a Triple-A reliever and a pitcher with promise who is coming back from Tommy John surgery for a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher who is under control for next season and a player that instantly becomes your top utility player is a great trade.

Expect Atlanta to keep talking with teams about relief pitchers before Tuesday’s 4:00 pm ET trade deadline. While Medlen will go back to the bullpen after his spot start Tuesday night, the Braves still believe there’s a market for relievers that can improve their depth.

But Atlanta general manager Frank Wren did well Monday. The Braves, who have won six in a row and 16 of their last 21 games, are better after making 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 .  Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at .