Choo trade gives Reds a step up in the NL Central

961809.png

Choo trade gives Reds a step up in the NL Central

While the Cubs continue to make minor moves this offseason, teams around them are pulling off big deals, from the Royals-Rays trade to the Zack Greinke signing in L.A.

READ: Cubs' offseason moves just beginning

But while those moves don't necessarily affect the Cubs, Tuesday night's trade directly impacts Theo Epstein's team.

In a three-way trade, the Reds acquired outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians, in addition to utility infielder Jason Donald. All they had to give up was outfielder Drew Stubbs (who went to Cleveland) and young Netherlands shortstop Didi Gregorius (who went to Arizona).

READ: The price the Cubs paid for Garza

Gregorius turns 23 on Feb. 18 and made his MLB debut in 2012, but boasts an underwhelming .271.323.376 batting line in his minor-league career, spanning more than 1,900 plate appearances. He has never shown much power (20 homers) or speed (40 stolen bases in 70 tries) and has not earned national recognition as a top prospect.

READ: The rundown on the Cubs' minor-league staff

Stubbs, 28, burst onto the MLB scene in 2010 with 22 homers and 30 stolen bases to go along with 77 RBI and 91 runs, but has seen his average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage drop in two straight seasons since, eventually falling out of favor in Cincinnati. The Reds were desperately looking for a leadoff man most of last season after Stubbs couldn't hang on to the gig, bogged down by a lofty strikeout total (588 in 1,791 at-bats, including a league-leading 205 in '11) and a low OBP (.277 in '12).

Choo, meanwhile, is a good get for the reigning NL Central division winners. The South Korean outfielder doesn't turn 31 until right around the 2013 All-Star break, so he's still in the midst of his prime. After three straight seasons with at least a .300 AVG and .883 OPS from 2008-10, injuries have slowed him a bit since, and he was arrested in May 2011 for a DUI.

But the outfielder spent much of his time in Cleveland as the Indians' No. 3 hitter and provides a nice balance of skills, from speed (76 steals since '09), power (80 homers since '08) and an ability to get on base (.381 career OBP). He stayed on the field for almost all of '12, posting a .283.373.441 line with 16 homers, 67 RBI and 88 runs.

Choo's patience may earn him the leadoff role on the Reds, setting the table for the likes of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. But no matter where he hits in the order, Choo is a major step up from Stubbs in the outfield.

The only issue is -- who plays center in Cincinnati? Stubbs was roughly average as a centerfielder, while Choo has been slightly below average in right field, so a switch to center would not be beneficial. Bruce is the other option, but he hasn't exactly played at a Gold Glove level in right for the Reds to date.

Choo is a free agent after the 2013 season and the Reds may not have the resources to retain his services, so this is likely only a one-year move. But the Reds have to be favorites to repeat in the NL Central, and if the Aroldis Chapman experiment as a starter goes well, they could garner some good World Series odds in Vegas.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."