Trading Block or Building Block? Part 2: The cost-controlled players

Yesterday we talked about some borderline trade candidates in Nate Schierholtz, Matt Garza, and Carlos Villanueva.  Borderline because they are still in their prime years (each is 29), but all are on short-term deals.  They present value to the team now, but it's a tougher question as to whether they can provide it after a contract extension.   Each player fits the organizational profile and each is young enough to contribute for the next few years.

Yet each of the aforementioned players' trade value is questionable as well, partly because of the lack of cost control but other factors such as durability come into play with the pitchers.  With Schierholtz, the question is more to whether he is anything more than a role player.

The next 3 players don't have the same issues.  They are all cost-controlled, all in the onset of their prime years, and all have regular roles.

Darwin Barney

Age 27

Salary: $562,000

Arb Eligible: 2014

Free Agent Year: 2017

This is a tough call given Barney's age and low cost.  He's also a stabilizing influence on the infield defense.  Two things point to a possible motive to trade Barney.  One is that he figures to get expensive into his arb years -- not terribly expensive, but enough to where you begin to wonder if he's not replaceable with a lower cost and similarly productive Logan Watkins -- or perhaps, down the line, a potentially dynamic offensive player in Arismendy Alcantara.  It would also depend on how much Barney can bring back, given his defensive value.  His defense makes him a league average 2B despite the lack of offense and he's definitely not a guy the Cubs will be in a hurry to trade, nor should they be.  But if a team looking for a low cost defensive-oriented middle infielder comes calling, the Cubs have to listen.

Travis Wood

Age: 26

Arb Eligible: 2014

Free Agent Year: 2017

Wood is roughly the same age and on the same schedule as Darwin Barney.  He's a rare commodity in that he's a LH starting pitcher who is pitching well and just entering his prime years.  All of that makes him valuable and the only thing that holds him back, perhaps, is his ceiling, which is that of a 4th starter.  At his salary and level of production he provides huge value both in the short term and in the long term as Wood has yet to enter his prime seasons.  The question with Wood, as with Barney, is whether he presents value once he starts getting raises through arbitration.  I think he does.  He's an athletic pitcher who should remain productive through his peak years.  He's younger than Chris Rusin and just 2-3 years older than Brooks Raley and Eric Jokisch, the pitchers who would be in-house replacements.  I think all of those pitchers have potential but I don't think any of them has a ceiling as high as Wood -- and , of course, Wood is already a productive MLB pitcher, so the floor is also much higher.  I also like that he helps himself with the glove, bat, and even his legs. He's an ideal NL pitcher.  To me, if Wood continues to be pitch well this season, the Cubs should look to extend him and buy out a year or two of free agency.  I don't think pitchers like him will be easy to replace through trade or free agency without paying a significant price.

James Russell

Age 27

Arb Eligible 2014

Free Agent Year: 2016

There are similarities with Russell and Wood with the obvious difference that Wood is a starter and Russell is a non-closing reliever.  Russell is also a free agent a year earlier.  Additionally, I think the pitchers mentioned above (Rusin, Raley, Jokisch) are more likely to replace Russell than Wood. For these reasons, I consider Russell more expendable.  Yet, he has value as a young, cheap, productive LH reliever.  It isn't difficult to imagine teams inquiring on Russell as they assess their bullpens come playoff time.  I'd consider dealing Russell but I'd first want to know if any of the Cubs in-house replacements could fill his shoes.  On the other hand, we've seen how difficult it has been for the Cubs to find reliable bullpen arms -- so I'd have to swallow hard and it'd have to be a deal with the team that values him highly and is willing to pay for it.

As we've said, any player can be traded, but the Cubs have to be smart about it.  They aren't equipped to constantly re-load players, even non-core players.  They have to factor in long term value,  organizational depth, and what each player can bring back in a trade.  Trading these 3 players would be difficult because they provide great value when you look at their salary relative to their production.   Remember, the Cubs are in the business to acquire productive cost-controlled players, not trade them away, so they would have to get a lot of value back in return to even consider moving them.



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  • Have to believe Wood would bring back more than Barney. Not sure Russell would bring back much.

  • I love what Barney brings but I'd rather keep Wood if I had to make a choice. He's the hardest to replace, in my opinion.

    Not sure Barney would bring back much, so for me it would depend on his level of production, willingness to sign an extension, and how well the 2Bs are doing behind him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Just to clarify, I didn't mean to disparage Russell but if I were to envision a trade for him I don't see the Cubs getting more than an A ball "prospect" in return.

  • Sometimes you get lucky with LH relievers. Has to be the perfect storm to get a lot of value for him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • Hey, they did it with Sean Marshall and he had only one year of control left...

  • In reply to mosconml:

    Good point!

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    I've felt that Wood could be a piece in a David Price deal. Russell would be someone I would deal if we got the Garland end of a Karchner deal.

  • In reply to Louie101:

    That's a possibility. In that case, I'm okay with it because it's an obvious upgrade. Not sure Tampa does it because he only has one less year of cost control and if Wood becomes an effective LH 4th starter type, they probably won't be able to keep him either. They'll look to replace him anyways.

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    In reply to Louie101:

    The Price package I'm building in my head -- and granted it's so early that this is little more than playing fantasy baseball -- is Baez, Johnson, Alcantara, Paul Blackburn, and Brett Jackson.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think that's too much. Two high ceiling top 10 middle infielders is a ton of value for Tampa, not to mention the two most advanced arms from last years draft.

    I'm waiting on Price, personally. Lost a couple ticks off his FB so far. It's early but I think that's too risky a deal for me.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agree it's a lot. I'm 50-50 on making the deal if that's what it is -- and I usually try to make deals that are difficult for me to swallow.

    I'm actually with you that we're in wait and see mode on Price. The deal assuming that the David Price in October is the guy who won Cy Young last year.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I make this deal in a heartbeat - assuming Price bounces back from a rough start (which was really just the one bad outing). 2 more years of cost control for one of the best young pitchers in the game. They would use the Shields trade as a comp - and Price is better than Shields. Baez would need to finish the season as a consensus top-5 prospect for the Rays to even consider it (similar to Wil Meyers). I could see the Cardinals giving up Tavares and that pitcher from the DR, a top-5 prospect and a top-25 prospect, respectively. Or the Rangers giving up Profar.

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    In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Cardinals don't make deals like that and can you blame them? All they've done is held on to their top prospects and have done nothing but benefit from it. Cubs should eventually be the same way.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    You and I agree on this. I'm hoping that if we make a James Shields like trade it's a one off as Theo is building the organization. Once the minor league system starts producing, we just ride our own players.

    In addition, I hope if we do make a James Shields trade, it's just one like the Royals did. They got a lot of grief over the winter -- admittedly I piled on -- and the Blue Jays a lot of praise for completely shredding the minor league system to put together a contender. But now the Blue Jays are kinda stuck, and the Royals pretty happy with their young core + an outstanding pitching staff.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Well, the Cardinals haven't had a system like this in a while - so its difficult to say they never utilize trades. But they have traded for nearly every key player, aside from Pujols and Molina. They used their system to acquire Edmuods, Rolen, Mulder, Holliday when they had a decent system. They traded Rasmus after his start had dimmed - for Jackson and Dotel. Those two contributed to a WS, but they were rentals. What the Cardinals are extremely good at is developing and procuring talent outside of the draft - or hitting on picks in later rounds. Take JD Drew for example. One year rental to ATL in exchange for Wain. One year rental of Edmonds for Freese. Pujols, Molina, Rosenthal, Tavares, etc. - none of whom were first or even second round picks. They signed Holliday to a huge deal following the trade. Somehow, they've been able to exceed at the MLB level while not having a strong system (strong system defined by elite talent) and never having top-10 picks. I dont care how we build a contender, but the Cards have something figured out that most clubs dont (aside from ATL). All while maintaining fiscal restraint. Everything they touch seems to somehow turn to gold...

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    The Cubs still need their prospects to develop into productive Major Leaguers.

  • Bingo. Thats the point. What our front office has largely lacked, over the last 80 years - is the ability to assess our own talent and decide which players are likely to succeed or contribute to the big club, and which ware likely to fail or stall out at AA/AAA. Hendy had some success here (Choi and Hill) for (DLee and Aram). If Theo looks at Baez and says 'Huge power and big upside, but his SO and inability to take pitches will weigh him down considerably' - I'm OK with Baez as a trading chip for procuring a long-term asset (Price in this scenario). Yes he is young and raw, but Theo is paid to identify these strengths and weakness - and it starts by knowing your own talent better than any other team. Again, I dont care if Almora, Soler, Baez, Vog, etc. - are key pieces to a WS championship in 2016 - or if we trade them all away and win with other players. I'll admit that it would be fun to go all Boston and win with a bunch of homegrown players - but I mainly care about winning it all (obviously). I understand that cost control is an issue here as well, but the Cubs can (should) be able to afford premium talent and have a top-6-8 payroll.

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    In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Two points:
    (a) The Myers deal was almost universally considered an overpay by a GM desperate for pitching that couldn't attract any even with free agent dollars. You can't expect an overpay on every trade.
    (b) Only looking at the top prospect is a mistake. The Royals gave up a true gem in Myers, and also included Odorizzi, an extremely promising pitching prospect. But, then, they added Mike Montgomery, who is a question mark, and Patrick Leonard, who is an A-ball hitter. My trade makes up for the somewhat less desirable prospect in Baez by including a shortstop who has performed at AA -- a significant improvement on an outfielder in the low minors -- and two pitching prospects who have shown middle of the order potential, and are fairly advanced for their level. On top of that, you get a former first round pick with 20-20 potential as a "toss in" fixer-upper project.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Wil Myers has dropped his strikeout rate to 28 in 102 Pas....27.4 percent, down from 33 percent two weeks ago. But it's still high.
    He's producing well despite that SO rate. But no prospect is a shoo-in, despite rankings.
    Odorizzi was a decent prospect but expendable. No tears shed in his loss in KC. Montgomery and Leonard, you have pegged correctly as throw-ins.
    All by saying (as I said at the time) that that trade looks pretty good for KC. Yes, it will take a long time to really evaluate it, but it wasn't one-sided (for the Rays, anyways).
    If Shields and Davis keep KC contending, it will have been worth Myers and the three other question marks.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    And you may prove right. My point was that it was considered too much at the time -- almost overwhelmingly so. And that seems to not have just been sportswriters, but other executives, too. If that was considered an overpay, you can't say that a trade for Price will necessarily be higher. Perhaps they only get fair market value for Price, which is equal to or less than the "overpay" for Shields.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Yes Mike, it was considered overpay at the time, by most observers. But my point is that the Royals gave up prospects only, out of a deep farm system, for an established difference-maker and a top pitching prospect in return.
    We need to build that "deep farm system", a la the Cards and the Rangers currently, to make those deals that take us to the top.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I see your point. You could also use Upton as an example. The Bauer trade was surprising as well. I was shocked at how little they received in return. The Rays likely wont make that trade. For every savvy GM, there are 'dumb' / near-sighted ones too I guess. It seems like your proposal was more quantity over quality. Or at least upside vs. track-record in the minors.

    The reality is, and I know its been discussed here before, is that most prospects don't pan out. I think Almora, based on offensive potential and the elite D, is likely to at least contribute to a major league team. Soler, given his physical attributes, patients and power potential is likely to at least contribute. To me, Baez has the highest ceiling, but has the most risk - patience and ability to stick at SS. So I'd hold on tight to Almora and Soler - with Baez / Vogelbach as key trade bait.

    I don't think any of us actually beleive that our lineup will include Almora, Baez, Soler, Vogelbach and Jackson in 2015. So management needs to determine which players to trade at the peak of their value. Thats why they get paid the big bucks.

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    In reply to Louie101:

    Oh, the flashbacks, the pain...I see lohse...aguillera...

  • Good article... I think Tr Wood is a keeper, especially considering the lack of impact starting pitchers in the farm and the weak FA market in the upcoming couple of years.

    I think Barney could go either way, but a lot depends on who we have to replace him with, like you said, we're not in a hurry, at least until someone steps up.

    And Russell, same as Marshall, a solid, young, non-closing left handed reliever, if the Cubs could bring similar value, that's great, but unlike the Marshall situation... Back then we have Russell, right now we don't have anyone else, which makes your point valid about having a replacement before you make a deal like that... If we were competing, I'd be completely against trading Russell, but teams don't really rebuild around a lefty pen arm.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks. I do think Wood would be the hardest for me to deal. I think he can be a solid #4 for a long time.

    I think Russell could provide the combo of best value with the least amount of pain when you trade him. Not that it wouldn't be painful. It would just be a little less painful.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Exactly Caps. We have to have a ready made replacement for Russel, and get fair/excess value in return a la Marshall. Who coincidentally brought us Wood....

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    I'd hold Wood and Russell unless my socks are knocked off. That just might happen with Russell. You'll get a team in contention that could use a lockdown lefty for the bullpen, and are willing to overpay to get one. But in both cases, the correct play appears to be let teams call you, and then extract value.

    Barney is trickier. I wouldn't overtly shop him just yet -- we saw what happened when he wasn't there earlier this season. At some point in the very near future, though, we hope Alcantara/Watkins/Torreyes will be pushing.him for playing time from below. At that point, you don't want to be "forced" to trade Barney, because that will lower returns. It's going to be a razor's edge.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Very difficult decision with regard to Barney. But the one thing for me is that if Castro is entrenched at SS, then the Cubs have a lot of middle infield prospects who will be looking for an opportunity to play 2B -- and at low cost. At some point you also have to decide if Barney still provides value as his salary goes up.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Do you buy the idea that Barney adds value to Castro? Castro has looked much better in the field since Barney's return. I know chemistry is often overrated, but when it comes to a middle of the infield team I think it is important.

  • Have to think Texas would have more to offer for Price.

  • At the very least, I think they could do it with a much smaller hit to their system.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yup, and they might be more inclined to trade for him if they're in contention and the Cubs aren't.

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    Not as much as you'd think, though. Obviously Profar heads any deal, and the Cubs can't match that. But then things get iffier. Mike Olt's value has taken a serious hit at this point. It might build back up -- or it might not. Martin Perez is a decent pitching candidate, but he's been an enigma. Cody Buckel is essentially Pierce Johnson, with maybe a smidge lower ceiling. They could send some of the young guys on their team -- but Tampa really needs cost control. Any movement towards arb years hurts them.

    The team that will be next to impossible to match -- as Buster Olney pointed out -- is the Cardinals. If they go with an Oscar Taveras-Shelby Miller headed deal, it gets very difficult to compete.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I hate the freakin' Cardinals.

  • The good thing is that its unlikely the Cards give Price a huge deal - since they just signed Wain to a big extension. Maybe something like 4/$60M - basically buying out two FA years. But I doubt Price goes for that. Unless the Cards spin their magical powers like they always do.

    Any trade for Price would have to include a negotiating period to lock-in an extension.

    The bottom line is that at some point in the next 18 months, Price and Stanton will likely be traded. I'd like the Cubs to trade for, and sign an extension for one of these players - assuming they maintain their level of play. Stanton would cost a ton. Price somewhat less so. These are some two of the most valuable commodities in baseball and the Cubs absolutely need some premium, established talent to supplement with their talented young core (current and prospects).

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Just looked up Buckel's numbers. He has massively struggled with the jump to AA. (Of course, unlike Pierce Johnson, he's gotten to AA.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:


  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I like Johnson better. I've always thought Buckel was overrated. Stuff is average.

  • John, great job writing these articles.

    Russell, to me, seems to be very important to US. We still don't have another lefty to join him..,not to mention replace him. I was Informed to hear he's only 27. I know we aren't winning anytime soon..,but you gotta give the team(Manager)something you can count on out of that bullpen from the left side. You would really have to WOW me to trade him now.


  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    Totally agree. You'd have to really give me a lot to trade any of these guys, if nothing else then because of their youth and low cost. i see no reason to really trade Russell because he costs you little and he's good at what he does. Like you, I'd have to be wow'd.

  • Great article as usual. Id be interested in seeing what Barney's market would be after this season. Considering of the 3 that you mentioned hes obviously the only everyday player who is one of the top defenders in the game. He would be perfect on a contender like Detroit or the Dodgers or another contender whose infield is suspect defensively. He would bring more as an add on to a player like Garza than those left handers IMO.

  • In reply to BleacherBum82:

    Thanks. I think these are guys you only trade if it helps you get another core player. No other reason for me to deal them.

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    I don't think we would get enough back to trade any of those three. I know the trade deadline can get crazy, but to get value back it would be a steal of a deal. If Wood could bring back what Maholm brought back it might be worth the risk, but if you only get a reliever, Wood is more valuable. I think Barney could be a good additional piece to a deal like he was rumored to be last year for Detroit. Russell will have to show a whole lot more to have value, though if he could get what Marshall got in return, you'd have to take it.

  • In reply to Denvil Farley:

    Can't argue with anything you said here, Denvil.

  • I don't think replacing Barney is as tough as it seems. Luis V was playing 3rd when he was out which led to the clown contest. I wonder if Luis V. wouldn't provide more value anyway, all things reconsidered.

  • In reply to TheMightyGin:

    I have got to agree about Valbuena - He might have more value to a contender in need of a UT-IF with a bit of 'pop' in his bat than would any of the others.

    Would have to consider offers for him as well as he has 'kids' in the pipeline that could fill his role on the team as well.

  • In reply to TheMightyGin:

    Interesting thought.

  • No way would I think of trading Barney until we have a real, bonafide 2nd baseman take it from him. Theo & Jed think of him as a core player, why should I 2nd guess them? You've seen the effect Barney has on the entire infield, and his clutch hitting (which doesn't seem to satisfy the sabermetricians) always seems to come at the right time.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I don't necessarily buy that he's core for them but right now I like having him around.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Barney elevates the quality of play at 2nd base, makes Castro better and therefore helps Rizzo make more plays. He's a lot more valuable tan most people give him credit for. He's like a modern day Glenn Beckert, heady as hell, but hasn't gotten a batting crown yet, although Beckert only had a few really good years with the bat.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I'm not advocating trading or not trading any of these guys, but I think it makes for an interesting discussion on what a team like the Cubs should consider value.

    Personally, unless somebody blows them away, I think Barney is going to be part of the Cubs for at least the next 2 years and possibly longer.

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    I'll actually advocate holding onto a guy!

    I like Russell and considering the number of relievers we've seen crap the bed, I wouldn't mind holding onto a reliable relief arm. But that said, John made the point that LHP can often retrieve more than their usual value, so if a team wants to blow our hair back, have at it.

    Travis Wood, too! I like Travis and he is the right age and type of what we are looking for. He is pitching well and his best years are ahead of him. He may not have the best pure-stuff, but he works. I don't think he quite qualifies as a "core" player. I would be more willing to trade him than Russell, but a top-20 prospect would have to be coming in return. Especially if he keeps up his current level of play, then it needs to be a really GREAT deal for us. Too much opportunity for him to either be a great contributor to the Cubs or a better trade piece in the future, toward the end of his arb-years (obviously supposing that we are able to improve our rotation enough that he is left without a spot).

    Barney is a no-doubt trade for me if we can convince a team they need him. While it's nice that he might be the 'best' defensive 2B, I don't believe that translates into much significant advantage over a really good defensive second baseman.
    ESPECIALLY if said 'really good' defensive second baseman can hit. I don't believe Barney will ever be able to turn his hit tool into something special and any production lost on defense would be VERY very easily recouped with any marginal boost on offense.
    One could even argue that if Logan Watkins can keep up his OBP skills in the MLB that he would be an immediate upgrade over Barney. And if Baez continues to progress, this question becomes simply comical.
    I would take a CB pick for him in a split second, and I think that would be a very good deal for both teams.

  • I could see keeping all 3. However they are all available in right deal. Barney for me would be most expendable due to depth in IF in system.

  • I really would lock up Wood though.

  • Interessting read. Bottom line expect these three to be Cubs for while, because they won't be easy to replace or to receive value from in a trade. If we wait for one to take their jobs all three could retire as Cubs.

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    As crazy as this sounds, I wonder if Kevin Gregg is starting to build up some deadline value. If he stays as automatic as he's been, I can easily see a team giving up a B prospect for him down the stretch.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    No question if he continues to surprise.

  • I definitely think the likelihood these guys are traded looks like:

    Russell has been solid, but there's a belief out there that relievers are fungible. Most teams won't trade solid prospects for relievers, but if Russell keeps up what he's doing, I could definitely see a team giving up a very good piece for Russell to solidify their pen. Russell's salary is slated to take a bump next year and they only have him for 2 more years (only one of which do I see them really contending).

    Barney is expendable to me because of the middle infield depth we have coming through. You hope one of Torreyes, Watkins and Alcantara can develop into an average major leaguer, which is what Barney is. I just wonder what kind of package you can actually get back for him.

    Wood you don't trade unless you get a great deal. He's a cheap, good 4th starter that we'll have for 3 more years after 2013. I just don't see teams giving up a couple high end prospects (which is what I'd need for Wood) in order to get him.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    I think your order is where I'd have it.

  • From MLBTR -- Randy Wells retires; Corey Patterson signed to minor-league deal by Mariners.
    Best of luck to both.

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    I love this line of thought. Not that we are in a position that we have to hold on to these guys. In years past we would have had no choice. But now the depth is working thru the minors with an eye to opening up spots for them. Not today mind you but in the next couple years we could have Johnson and Gray/Appel sitting in AAA and we are needing to open spots for them.

    I think that Team Theo is going to be looking to move some of these guys this year or maybe in the offseason just because they are replaceable. The only person I would be hesitant about them moving anytime soon is Russell. Just because established lefties that are more than LOOGY's need to be replaced before they can be moved and right now there is not an option in sight that can replace him.

    If Watkins continues to show he gets it at AAA then Barney is in the way. I love Barneys defense but his bat to me holds him back. A light hitting shortstop that plays top notch defense can be useable. The same can not be said for a second baseman. He has value I just do not think it is much at this point.

    Wood is a 4/5 starter who is in the middle of a hot streak. Is he the real deal that we have seen this year or the guy that we got from Cincy? A lot of people are thinking it is the first option all of a sudden I am not sold on that yet. If we trade him this season we had better get a good deal from it because we need him today. In 18 months that may not be the case.

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    Me thinks Barney would have more value as part of a package. Barney by himself would only have value to the right team, but when packaged with another asset, like Reed Johnson was packaged with Maholm, he gives another team a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

  • I think all three of those guys are keepers and will be better players than they are now in two years. Wood is stepping it up. So is Russell. Hope they keep it going!

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