Chicago Cubs Sign Paul Maholm: Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer Have 4 More Moves to Make
Maholm, 29, becomes the third substantial starting pitching acquisition of the new Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein regime, and could open the door to another, as his arrival may make Matt Garza more available in trade.
This is a brilliant move by the Cubs, a bargain-bin signing of a pitcher with elite ground-ball skills (he ranks among the top 10 percent of qualifying hurlers in ground-ball rate since 2008, just ahead of Roy Halladay).
He is left-handed, a priority under Epstein and Hoyer as they look to slow down left-handed batters at Wrigley Field. Lefties hit 19 percent more home runs than average at Wrigley last season, as opposed to four percent better than average from the right side.
Maholm also will pitch before an improved defensive infield in 2012, which should make him more effective. Ultimately, perhaps his greatest contribution will be to facilitate the Garza deal that seems critical to the completion of the front office's winter goals to initiate rebuilding efforts.
Here are five more deals that the Cubs' front office will try to get done before Opening Day, in order to finish what they have now begun.
1. Trade Matt Garza to the Detroit Tigers
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This is the obvious step, especially insofar as it appears to be halfway done already.
Maholm's arrival makes this the right time to move Garza, and by virtue of being most willing to trade a truly top-notch pitching prospect, the Tigers are the right place to ship him.
A sticky question remains about who else would join the Cubs organization in this move, but the deal itself now seems almost inevitable.
Turner will quickly become a major part of the projected rotation when next the Cubs plan to be relevant, in 2014 or 2015:
- Jacob Turner
- Dillon Maples
- Trey McNutt
- Travis Wood
- Chris Volstad
2. Trade Marlon Byrd to the Boston Red Sox
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Athletic, strong and smart, Marlon Byrd has yet some substantial value as a semi-regular outfielder.
He's a positive clubhouse presence, mashes left-handed pitching at times and would be an ideal platoon partner for Ryan Sweeney in Boston.
The trade, of course, would be tricky.
It might well lead to a protracted re-opening of the compensation talks for the Red Sox's loss of Epstein to the Cubs in October.
Still, that's a farm system the Cubs' front office knows well, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that they could find a tarnished gem somewhere in the mines in return for Byrd.
3. Re-Sign Kerry Wood
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Few players in recent memory have had the sort of love affair with their team's fanbase that Wood shares with fans of the Cubs.
It isn't that Wood is more beloved than Derek Jeter or Jason Varitek, but it is different.
Wood said in September he would retire rather than pitch for any other team again.
Those winds seem to be changing, as the rebuilding effort at Wrigley seems to be distasteful to Wood, 34.
He has little time left, after all, in which to pursue a World Series ring.
My gut says Wood will return to Chicago in the end, but the deal is not nearly done, and it may yet fall apart altogether.
It would be really nice, though, not to have to unduly push Chris Carpenter or Rafael Dolis into big-league bullpen roles this spring.
4. Sign Jorge Soler
The diamond in the free-agent rough this winter is Jorge Soler.
He's only 19, so though he presents considerable risk, his price is not going to soar into eight figures.
Soler is a Cuban defector with a whole lot of tools, and he deserves at least a share of the attention currently being lavished on countryman Yoenis Cespedes.
Soler is a perfect fit to infuse high-impact upside into a farm system that lacks it right now.