By Scott Barzilla

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer officially began the hard work of shedding payroll before the deadline by consummating two trades during last night’s game. Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto were seen hugging teammates in the middle of the game, but they weren’t the most important pieces to go last night. The Cubs finally swung a deal with the Atlanta Braves after the Ryan Dempster trade fell through.

The Braves got a significant boost to their postseason chances when they were able to add Paul Maholm to their rotation and Reed Johnson to their bench. The deal was a costly one for the Braves as they surrendered top prospect Aroyds Vizcaino in the trade. Vizcaino likely would have been in the Braves rotation this season had he not required Tommy John surgery. Since TJ surgery is not the death sentence it used to be, the move simply delays his development into next season.

The Cubs also got Jaye Chapman from the Braves in the exchange. Chapman was clearly not one of the Braves’ top prospects, but he was serviceable this season in AAA as he sported a 3.52 ERA and managed to save seven games. Whether he has an immediate future in Chicago is not known, but the Cubs did clear out a long-term contract in Maholm.

As for the Braves, the deal may have been costly, but Maholm has been pitching well of late and it has been no secret that they craved a veteran starter to help them down the stretch. Getting a solid utility player in Reed Johnson was just icing on the cake. Considering that the Phillies, Marlins, and Mets seem to be fading, it is was a good move to make a run for the Nationals now.

The Cubs also were able unload the disappointing Geovany Soto on the Texas Rangers in exchange for Jacob Brigham. Brigham is obviously not a huge get for the Cubs as Soto did not have a ton of value on the open market. Brigham has been a bottom of the rotation starter in AA for two consecutive seasons. He is what we like to call a JAG (just a guy). However, Soto was clearly not going to be part of the Cubs future. So, they dumped him and his 4.3 million dollar salary on the Rangers.

The problem with Soto has been his clear inconsistency in terms of conditioning and ultimately performance. This year, he was hitting .199, but also saw a dramatic drop in power. He will be eligible for his second year of arbitration next season and it is clear that he was going to be a non-tender candidate. Players don’t get pay cuts in arbitration, so Soto could have conservatively expected five million from the Cubs. Now, that decision goes to the Rangers.

Speaking of the Rangers, that decision was very peculiar coming from them. Soto has sported 0.1 WAR to this point in the season, but they decided to designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. While not performing spectacularly, he was hitting better than Soto. Soto is a slight upgrade defensively, so maybe that is what the Rangers are thinking. Plus, I suppose they are taking the risk that a change in scenery would jump start him to become the Soto he was back in 2010.

At any rate, stay tuned for the rest of the day as the Cubs are trying to find takers for Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, and Alfonso Soriano. If they are able to deal all three of those players they will have accomplished nearly as much as the Houston Astros in terms of getting rid of veterans that won’t be part of their future.

Scott Barzilla

Scott Barzilla is the editor in chief at hardballchat.com. He is also the author of four books, including The Hall of Fame Index. The Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical innovation in 2011.

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