Cubs deal Bonifacio, Russell to Braves for prospect
Chicago acquires 20-year-old catcher Caratini, hitting .279 at Class A
CHICAGO -- At 2:56 p.m. CT, James Russell trotted in from the Cubs' bullpen at Wrigley Field. It was his usual bathroom break.
"Then I sat down next to Travis [Wood] on the bench, and he said, 'Hey, time's up,' and I said, 'Yeah, I escaped,'" Russell said of the 3 p.m. Trade Deadline Thursday. "Next thing, [athletic trainer PJ Mainville] said, 'Hey, the boys upstairs need to talk to you.' I had a feeling then that I was going to be leaving."
At about 3:15 p.m., the lefty ran back out to the 'pen to get his glove, jacket, and say goodbye to the other relievers, the coaches and catchers.
The Cubs dealt Russell plus infielder Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves on Thursday in exchange for 20-year-old catching prospect Victor Caratini, who was batting .279 at Class A Rome. Caratini was expected to join the Cubs' Class A Kane County team.
Russell, 28, has been a workhorse for the Cubs the last three seasons, and had appeared in 44 games this year with a 3.51 ERA. Left-handers were batting .295 off him compared to .103 by right-handers. The fans sitting near the 'pen figured out what was going on when Russell returned for his glove.
"They gave me a little round of applause by the bullpen," Russell said.
The longest tenured Cubs player besides shortstop Starlin Castro, Russell got to play with Derrek Lee, Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood. His father, Jeff Russell, also pitched in the big leagues, and knows a thing or two about changing teams. He was traded three times.
"It's hard to wrap your head around it," Russell said. "It's obviously a shock. There's nothing that can kind of prepare yourself for this. It's still kind of weird. I don't know how to feel; there's a lot of excitement, mixed emotions. It's going to be a good thing."
General manager Jed Hoyer called Russell a "gamer."
"I give that guy a lot of credit," Hoyer said. "He worked really hard for a couple years in some bullpens that we put together that were short-handed.
"He's a great competitor," Hoyer said of Russell. "You talk about bloodlines in baseball, and his dad was a great competitor. You know he doesn't scare off in a big moment. I think he'll help them a lot."
Bonifacio, 29, has played second, third and center field for the Cubs and the switch-hitter was batting .279 in 298 plate appearances. He also said his goodbyes in the dugout during the Cubs' game against the Rockies.
"Bonifacio, while we love what he did for us this year -- good energy -- he was a guy, being a free agent, he's a perfect playoff-run, end-of-the-season player," Hoyer said. "He can run, kind of a Dave Roberts mold."
The Braves weren't going to part with Caratini straight up for one Cubs player.
"In order to get a guy like Caratini, we felt it was the right move," Hoyer said.
This was the third straight year the Cubs have dealt two of their starting pitchers before the Trade Deadline, having dealt Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 4. They also traded second baseman Darwin Barney to the Dodgers. Could this be the last year the Cubs are sellers?
"The way the organization has been going and acquiring players and drafting and developing kids in the system, I would hope it comes to the point where it shifts in a different direction," manager Rick Renteria said. "All of us are hopeful that will be the case in the near future. That's been the hope and desire of the organization to get to a point like that. Things happen over the course of seasons and things change. Right now, we're hopefully moving in the right direction."
Russell and Bonifacio now find themselves going from last in the National League Central to second in the NL East.
"This will be exciting and something I've never experienced," Russell said. "There will be a lot of adrenaline and a lot of emotion. It'll be fun and see what I'm made out of."