This is the second time in little over a year that the Astros have traded for former Gold Glove winner Maldonado. On 26th July 2018, Houston acquired the veteran catcher from the Angels for international bonus money and minor leaguer Patrick Sandoval. With Robinson Chirinos starting behind the plate, Maldonado will fill a defensive specialist backup role with Houston, as he had done for the Cubs. As Willson Contreras is back from the injured list and Victor Caratini is producing, Maldonado was surplus to requirements and a trade seemed inevitable.
Kemp, who was recently designated for assignment by the 2017 World Series winners, will head to Chicago as a bench piece. Comfortable in all three outfield spots or at second base, Kemp’s versatility is his main asset. Offensively, the former fifth-round pick is a contact hitter who enjoyed a good season in 2018, posting a .743 OPS.
While moving Maldonado was always probable, acquiring Kemp is a bit of a surprise for the Cubs. In Ian Happ, Robel Garcia and David Bote, Chicago have plenty of role players with positional flexibility, not to mention Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, who are both good defenders all over the park. Ultimately, the Cubs were likely not in a position to dictate the return for Maldonado, though, with his market likely very thin.
More utility guys is never really a problem. Kemp’s spot on the Cubs roster might not be safe for long, however, particularly if/when Ben Zobrist returns to the Majors. Maldonado will likely backup for Chirinos, and we could see him come into playoff games as a defensive substitution.