Ryan Dempster was as good as gone a week ago, but it took until mere moments before the trade deadline for the Chicago Cubs to cash in perhaps their best chip.
Dempster was dealt to Texas on Tuesday afternoon, leaving Casey Coleman to fill his spot in the rotation hours later when the Cubs host the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chicago (43-58) had a deal in place last week to send Dempster to Atlanta, but the right-hander didn't approve the trade, his right as a player who's spent 10 years in the majors and five with the same club.
Dempster stated a preference to join the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in the end reportedly expanded his list to include the New York Yankees and Texas. It was the Rangers who wound up getting him, sending minor league right-hander Kyle Hendricks and infielder Christian Villanueva to the Cubs.
That move came on the heels of two more during Monday's 14-4 rout of the Pirates (58-44). Chicago sent catcher Geovany Soto to Texas and also shipped pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson to Atlanta.
"It isn't comfortable to go down there and make moves," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I'm glad in this case it didn't impact the actual game."
The Pirates, meanwhile, acquired outfielder Travis Snider from Toronto for reliever Brad Lincoln after Monday's loss and were busy again Tuesday. Pittsburgh sent outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to Miami as part of a deal for first baseman Gaby Sanchez, then shipped Casey McGehee to the Yankees for reliever Chad Qualls.
Snider is set to debut Tuesday in right field and bat second, but the Pirates' biggest concern after the series opener has to be slowing down the Cubs' lineup. Darwin Barney finished a double shy of the cycle while Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro also went deep as Chicago posted a season high in runs.
"You're going to take beatings from time to time," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "Things just got away from us a little bit."
Things haven't gotten away from A.J. Burnett (12-3, 3.52 ERA) very often. He held Houston to a pair of solo homers and two singles over 7 1-3 innings Thursday in a 5-3 win, his 11th in his last 13 starts.
Burnett will look for a sixth victory in as many matchups with the Cubs. He tossed 5 1-3 innings in outdueling Dempster in a 1-0 victory at PNC on May 25.
Burnett will try to win 13 games for the first time since 2009, when he was with the New York Yankees, and help the Pirates avoid their first three-game skid since June 24-26. He earned a career-high 18 victories in 2008 with Toronto.
The Cubs will turn to Coleman (0-1, 7.32) for the right-hander's first major league start since Sept. 26. He had a 4.50 ERA in his first 15 appearances this season in Chicago before allowing seven runs over 1 2-3 innings June 27 against the Mets and earning a ticket back to Triple-A Iowa.
He wasn't any better in the minors, going 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in four appearances - three starts.
Coleman held the Pirates to two runs - one earned - over six innings on Sept. 3 in a game the Pirates rallied to win 7-5.