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 now trying to get minor leaguers exempted from minimum wage law at the state level

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In recent years, Major League Baseball spent significant amounts of money lobbying Congress to exempt minor leaguers from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. They succeeded last year, as minor leaguers are now considered seasonal workers and as such are not owed minimum wage or overtime pay.

MLB is not yet done attacking minor leaguers. Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times reports that MLB is trying to get Arizona lawmakers to exempt players from state minimum wage law. A proposed bill, HB 2180, is being sponsored by Rep. T.J. Shope (R – Coolidge) and would protect MLB from lawsuits, past or present, for not paying minor leaguers at least minimum wage during spring training. Minor leaguers already do not get paid for their work in spring training, so this is simply a preemptive maneuver by MLB to protect itself from potential lawsuits. As Giles notes, HB 2180 would enshrine the exemption in federal law in Arizona’s state statute.

Shope said, “I think it’s just trying to clear up what MLB considers a gray area on their blank. … My assumption is they obviously do have a concern, and are trying to protect a flank of theirs more in the pro-active sense.” Talking about minor leaguers, Shope said spring training is “essentially a tryout. You’re not on the team yet.”

Garrett Broshuis, a former major leaguer and one of the lawyers representing Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle in a case Craig wrote about here, spoke to Giles for his article. Broshuis said, “It really is just unfortunate, because the people of Arizona passed this law to require employers to pay all workers a minimum wage, and these ballplayers are performing a service that is a valuable service, and they deserve to be compensated at least the minimum wage for it.”

Broshuis is seeking class action status in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball in Florida and Arizona, the league’s two homes for spring training. Arizona is home to the Cactus League, the spring training league for the Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Reds, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Dodgers, Brewers, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners, and Rangers. A federal judge denied Broshuis’s request but he appealed and is waiting on a ruling.

MLB makes a ton of money during spring training the same way it makes money during the regular season: by charging for tickets, concessions, merchandise, and parking. Minor leaguers are part of the player population helping attract fans to the ballpark, so they deserve to be compensated for their work. That they are not is criminal enough, but to brazenly push legislation to remove any legal remedies they might have had is even more evil. MLB has been setting revenue records year over year, taking in more than $10 billion last year. The league and its individual teams can afford to provide a comfortable life for minor leaguers, but every day it makes the choice not to do so out of avarice.