From punches to catchers: Cubs, Padres trade

Jeff Vorva

First, the Cubs and San Diego Padres traded punches.

Then they traded catchers.

On Wednesday, the Cubs dealt Michael Barrett to San Diego for backup catcher Rob Bowen and minor league outfielder Kyler Burke. The Cubs also will pay $1.5 million to the Padres.

“We felt like we needed to make a change,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “We felt Michael was well on his way to becoming a terrific, All-Star-caliber player, but he’s had a little tougher time defensively. A lot of it’s probably trying too hard. Maybe some of it is because of (his being in) the last year of his deal. But he’s a really, really good offensive player, and for the first couple of years, he showed a lot of improvement defensively. But he’s had a bit of a rougher time the first half of this year.”

The deal came four days after the Cubs and Padres engaged in a benches-clearing brawl at Wrigley Field.

“I was pretty surprised — very surprised,” said Barrett, who was told of the deal early Wednesday morning by Cubs assistant GM Randy Bush. “I’ve gone from one great organization to another. This is more of a relief more than anything else.”

Bowen, 26, a switch-hitter, batted .268 with two homers and 11 RBI in 30 games for the Padres this season. In two games against the Cubs over the weekend, he went 2-for-5 with two walks and a homer.

“We’ll probably rely on Bowen more than (Koyie) Hill,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We anticipate giving him every opportunity to take over the catching position.”

Bowen was not available for comment.

Hill entered Wednesday’s action hitting .160. However, in his first 67 innings behind the plate, Cubs pitchers had a 1.75 ERA, compared to 4.17 when Barrett caught.

“My stance has always been that when they put me in the lineup and tell me to go, I go,” Hill said. “Two or three days in a row. Ten days in a row. One day. If they put me in the lineup every day or we split time, I’ll play the same way every time.”

Henry Blanco, who began the season as Barrett’s backup, is still nursing a herniated disc in his neck and is not expected to return anytime soon.

On Saturday, the Cubs’ Derrek Lee and the Padres’ Chris Young were the main combatants in the benches-clearing fight at Wrigley Field. Ironically, it was Bowen, catching for the Padres, who distracted home-plate umpire Mike Everitt after Young hit Lee with a pitch. That allowed Lee and Young to jaw with each other before the brawl started.

Barrett, one of the top offensive catchers with power in the majors, had nine homers and 29 RBI in 57 games this season. But his defense was spotty and he was prone to gaffes at inopportune moments.

Generally an easygoing sort who has done plenty of charity work, Barrett has also shown flashes of rage. In August 2004, he twice got into shouting matches with Houston’s Roy Oswalt. Last year, Barrett’s most infamous incident occurred at U.S. Cellular Field, when he slugged the Sox’s A.J. Pierzynski after a play at the plate, setting off a melee. Barrett drew a 10-game suspension for that punch.

This season, Barrett brawled with teammate Carlos Zambrano in the dugout and in the clubhouse on June 1. Eleven days later, Barrett and pitcher Rich Hill were involved in a shouting match in the dugout.

“Some things happened that are unfortunate, but they are behind me now,” Barrett said. “Some things happened that are out of my character. I play on the edge a lot.”

Piniella said the team had been talking for a week about a potential parting of the ways with Barrett.

Hendry said discussions with the Padres got serious over the previous three or four days.

Barrett, who hit 16 homers in each of his first three seasons with the Cubs, won a Silver Slugger Award in 2005, when he batted .276, with 61 RBI. He hit .307 last year before missing most of the final month of the season because of an intrascrotal hematoma.

The left-handed-hitting Burke, 19, was hitting .211 in 62 games for Class A Fort Wayne, with one homer and 21 RBI.

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