The Chicago Cubs landed a new left-hander for their bullpen, acquiring John Grabow from the busy Pittsburgh Pirates in a five-player trade Thursday.
Locked in a tight race atop the NL Central, the Cubs sent right-handers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio and minor league infielder Josh Harrison to Pittsburgh for Grabow and lefty Tom Gorzelanny.
Grabow, a top situational lefty, is 3-0 with a 3.42 ERA in 45 appearances. He can become a free agent after the season and probably wouldn't have re-signed with the Pirates.
"John Grabow is pretty darn good. It got to the point where we weren't going to get John Grabow without Kevin in the deal," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
Gorzelanny, who was 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA for Pittsburgh in 2007, has spent most of this year at Triple-A Indianapolis.
The 26-year-old Hart was traded minutes after pitching Chicago to a 12-3 victory over Houston on Thursday. He is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in eight games, including four starts.
"This package was a great return for what we gave up," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
Hart found out after his third straight win that he wouldn't be boarding a flight with the Cubs to Florida. Instead, he was headed to a new team _ still wearing a Cubs sweat shirt.
"It's a little weird," Hart said. "You know it's part of the business. It's always a possibility it's going to happen."
Hart came to the Cubs in a 2006 trade from Baltimore. This deal came one day before baseball's non-waiver trade deadline.
"You are never happy. You never want to get traded, especially from a team that is in first place and a team that is playing so well," Hart said. "It's tough, but I've been through it before. ... It's a great opportunity for me in Pittsburgh."
Hendry said Grabow will complement fellow lefty Sean Marshall in the bullpen, giving the Cubs more flexibility.
Grabow was 6-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 74 appearances last season. Hendry said his ability to pitch well in tight situations late in games made him even more attractive to the Cubs as they chase a third straight division title.
"To get another lefty of that caliber is essential," Hendry said. "John Grabow was a sought-after guy, a perfect deadline deal, a good left-hander out of the bullpen. Who doesn't want that at the deadline?"
Gorzelanny, from the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, will remain in Triple-A for the time being, Hendry said. The GM said the Cubs are encouraged that Gorzelanny is back on track and hope he will return to the form he showed two years ago.
Huntington said there was an "uneasy feeling" about trading Gorzelanny within the division.
"He's made some nice adjustments. He's more aggressive in the strike zone, he's using the fastball better than last year for sure," Huntington said. "But what counted for us is the three players we're getting in return. We like the return, the ability for them to play and pitch for us for a long time."
The trade between NL Central rivals was the third major deal for the payroll-slashing Pirates in two days, following those that sent second baseman Freddy Sanchez to San Francisco and shortstop Jack Wilson to Seattle on Wednesday.
This deal strips the Pirates of nearly all their left-handed pitching depth in the upper levels of their system.
"The left-handed specialist's role is drastically overrated," Huntington said. "I'd rather have seven pitchers who can get left-handers and right-handers out."
Nate McLouth, Wilson, Sanchez, Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, Xavier Nady, Ronny Paulino, Nyjer Morgan and Jose Bautista have all been dealt in the last two seasons by a team that is 24 losses from becoming the first major league club to endure 17 consecutive losing seasons.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hart has made four starts this season and also pitched out of the bullpen while splitting time between Triple-A and the majors.
Hart probably would have been removed from Chicago's rotation once Ted Lilly returns from the disabled list. Now, Hart hopes to find a permanent starter's role with the Pirates.
Huntington said Hart has the "size, pitch arsenal and makeup to be a solid major league starting pitcher or late-inning reliever."
Ascanio has also split time between Triple-A and the Cubs. He was 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in 14 relief appearances for Chicago this season. He will be assigned to Indianapolis.
The 22-year-old Harrison was hitting a combined .327 with five homers, 42 RBIs, 20 doubles, eight triples and 26 stolen bases in 97 games with two Class-A teams, Peoria and Daytona.
Harrison will join Class-A Lynchburg. Huntington said the Pirates want to develop him as a second baseman.