Cubs send Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson to Atlanta; Geovany Soto to Texas

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The Cubs started the unloading process Monday night, shipping left-hander Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson to the Braves right-handers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino and catcher Geovany Soto to Texas for right-hander Jacob Brigham.

Maholm satisfies the Braves’ need for a starter after the team originally tried trading for fellow Cub Ryan Dempster. Maholm has been on an incredible roll of late, going 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA since June 29. He can also be kept for 2013 at a modest $6.5 million under the terms of a team option on his contract.

Johnson should prove to be a nice upgrade over the currently injured Matt Diaz as an occasional starter against left-handers. He was hitting .307/.361/.452 in 166 at-bats this season, including a .333/.379/.543 line in 81 at-bats versus southpaws. He’s a free agent at season’s end.

MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports that top outfield prospect Brett Jackson has been pulled from the game for Triple-A Iowa, suggesting that he’ll be promoted to replace Johnson on the roster. The strikeout-prone Jackson was hitting .255/.337/.482 for Iowa.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported the names in the Maholm deal. Chapman, 25, is a potential setup man or maybe a closer with his big fastball. He has a 3.52 ERA and a 60/29 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett this season. Expect to see him get his first look in the majors soon.

Vizcaino’s inclusion in the deal is a surprise, considering that the 21-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery this spring. The Braves moved him to the pen last year, and he was pretty impressive while posting a 4.67 ERA in 17 appearances after a late-season callup. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs move him back to the rotation or leave him in the pen next spring. He certainly has big-time upside in either role, and the Cubs can afford to be patient if they decide to let him start.

According to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, Soto was traded for Brigham, a 24-year-old who has gone 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA and a 116/46 K/BB ratio in 124 innings for Double-A Frisco this season. The 2006 sixth-round pick is an unlikely major leaguer, but perhaps the Cubs see something they think they can turn into a middle reliever. They weren’t planning to bring Soto back in 2013 anyway.

Soto will back up Mike Napoli in Texas after Yorvit Torrealba was designated for assignment and will likely get some starts against left-handers behind the plate when Napoli starts at first base or DH. Torrealba figures to be traded. Since Soto is making $4.3 million this year and is probably due a modest raise this winter despite his poor .195/.278/.345 line this year, he’s a strong candidate to be non-tendered.

Miguel Sano gained weight this offseason

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Not all players coming in to spring training are in The Best Shapes of Their Lives. Some have put on a few pounds, such as Miguel Sano, notes Twins GM Thad Levine:

Sano has been given medical clearance to engage in all baseball workouts with his teammates, his surgically reinforced left shin now completely healed, though the Twins intend to lighten his schedule to prevent any new injuries.

They’d like to lighten something else, too: His “generous carriage,” as General Manager Thad Levine delicately put it last week. Sano’s conditioning understandably lags, after a winter largely spent incapacitated by the surgery.

Sano’s conditioning has often been a topic of conversation among the members of the Minnesota press corps, though not always in good faith. For example, last year when Sano injured his shin by fouling a ball off of it, one member of the The Fourth Estate found a way to make a column out of blaming the freak injury on Sano’s conditioning. At least in this instance his colleague is correctly noting that the poor conditioning is a result of the injury and not the cause.

Still, it’s just another issue facing Sano this spring. He’s out of shape, coming off of an injury, and — not that he’s due any sympathy for it — he’s facing a likely suspension arising out of the allegations of sexual assault leveled against him late last year.

So this spring we’ll be seeing more of Sano, it seems. At least until that time we’ll be seeing less of him.