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.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.