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.

Marlins option Tom Koehler to Triple-A, recall Hunter Cervenka

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Long-time rotation mainstay Tom Koehler was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on Monday and reliever Hunter Cervenka was recalled, the Marlins announced.

Koehler, 31, made 131 starts out of the Marlins’ rotation over the last five years, but his 12 this season have not been good, so the club hopes he can figure things out with a stint in the minors. He’s carrying a 7.92 ERA with a 44/29 K/BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings. Koehler battled bursitis in his right shoulder in May and June, which may partially explain his struggles.

Cervenka, 27, posted a 4.50 ERA with a 34/21 K/BB ratio in 34 innings of relief with New Orleans. He hasn’t pitched in the majors yet this season, but compiled a 3.53 ERA over 43 1/3 innings in the bigs last year in the Marlins’ bullpen.

Nationals, Dodgers, and Red Sox are interested in Pat Neshek

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At the trade deadline, relief pitching is the name of the game and one of the names clearly available is Pat Neshek. Today Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the Nationals, Dodgers, and Red Sox are among the clubs who are closely scouting the Phillies reliever. Last week Ken Rosenthal reported that the Brewers and Rays were involved as well.

Neshek is an impending free agent, so he may come cheaper than Justin Wilson or some of the other bullpen arms available right now. The All-Star is 36 and is posting a fantastic season, featuring a 1.12 ERA and 45/5 K/BB ratio over 40.1 innings this season.