Cubs acquire Lawton, deal Gerut

Cubs acquire Lawton, deal Gerut at deadline

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs hope they've found a leadoff man at last.

The Cubs acquired outfielder Matt Lawton on Sunday from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Jody Gerut, who had been in uniform with the team for two weeks.

Lawton, 33, was batting .276 with 28 doubles, 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 100 games with the Pirates this year. The left-handed-hitting outfielder has a .382 on-base percentage, and batted leadoff primarily for the Pirates.

"He's a guy who can hit leadoff, hit anywhere in the lineup," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. "Hopefully, he can help us get our offense back on track."

"I'm excited about it because Lawton is one of my better friends in baseball," said Cubs second baseman Todd Walker, who was Lawton's roommate in the Minor Leagues and came up with the outfielder in Minnesota's system. "He's a good leadoff guy. I don't know where Dusty [Baker] is going to use him, but he's got a lot of speed and a lot of power. I think bringing him over from the Pirates is going to have the same effect on him as it did on Aramis [Ramirez, in 2003]. I think Lawton thrives in this environment."

"Let's hope it works out like it did in '03," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.

The Cubs reached the National League Championship Series in 2003, Baker's first year as manager. Lawton has played for Minnesota, the New York Mets and Cleveland, and was a two-time All-Star.

"All of a sudden, now you're on a contender," Lawton told reporters in Pittsburgh. "It's the first time in my career that in August and September I'll have some meaningful games.

"When you are playing for something like a playoff spot and the opportunity to play in front of a lot of great fans, it kind of gets you up a little bit more," he said.

Can one player turn a team around?

"That remains to be seen," Walker said, "but if Lawton does what he's capable of doing, he'll do a lot for us. This game has a lot of human influence, so he's definitely a good player. He's going to be a big spark for us. Nomar [Garciaparra] coming back in the next week will as well."

The Cubs will make a bigger splash on Friday when they are expected to activate Garciaparra and pitchers Kerry Wood and Scott Williamson from the disabled list.

"That could be a tremendous, tremendous boost," Baker said about having the trio return.

Wood made his first relief appearance on Sunday for Class A Peoria, and gave up one hit and struck out two in one inning against Fort Wayne. He threw 22 pitches, 15 for strikes.

"Everybody wants a hitter this time of year, everybody wants another 'pen guy this time of year," Hendry said. "We may be adding two outstanding 'pen guys in the same week."

That would be Wood and Williamson. Wood has been a starter his entire career with the Cubs, and is being moved into a relief role in hopes of avoiding any further strain on his right shoulder. Wood already has spent two months on the disabled list this year because of his shoulder. Williamson is an experienced setup pitcher.

The Cubs have been scuffling offensively, and unable to get much going ahead of sluggers Derrek Lee and Ramirez. Lawton should provide a spark. Not only was he solid getting on base, but he was hitting .328 with RISP, while the Cubs as a team were batting .235. He played primarily left field last year with Cleveland, but was used in right this season with the Pirates.

"Hopefully he can come over here to rejuvenate the offense," Baker said.

Lawton, who was making $7.25 million this year, is a free agent after this season. The Pirates will reportedly pay the Cubs slightly more than $1 million as well as part of the deal. He said it will be tough to leave Pittsburgh.

"Lloyd [McClendon] has been, by far, the best manager I have ever played for," Lawton said. "He asks for one thing -- for guys to play hard and go about your business the right way. That's what everyone does in this clubhouse. It's been a fun time. It was a great match for me. It was a learning experience and I got to know a lot of great guys.

"It's kind of weird," he said. "You'd think guys would be happy to leave a team and go to a contender. But I was kind of excited that I hadn't heard anything. I wouldn't mind staying."

Gerut, 27, acquired July 18 for Jason Dubois, was used primarily as a pinch-hitter, but did start on Sunday, his second start for the Cubs. He was 1-for-14 with the Cubs after hitting .275 with the Indians. A Chicago area native, he would've liked to have stayed put.

"It's tough to leave," Gerut said. "Two weeks here made me realize this would've been a great place to play."

Lawton knows that.

"There are a lot of day games and you have to get acclimated to that," Lawton said. "You can't ask for better fans or a better place to play. It's going to be fun. Playing with guys like Derrek Lee, Todd Walker and Ramirez will be awesome."

Apparently, the deal needed approval from Commissioner Bud Selig, who was in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Selig had to be interrupted during Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg's speech to give the deal the OK.

Hendry said finding a pitcher for the bullpen wasn't a high priority because Wood and Williamson would be ready soon. The Cubs have tried Corey Patterson, Jerry Hairston, and Neifi Perez in the leadoff spot, and none have clicked.

"I played with [Lawton] in Cleveland and he was great for us," Gerut said. "He gave us a spark and was a great catalyst. That's something every team needs."

The Cubs did get some interest in Patterson, who was sent to Triple-A Iowa on July 7. But Hendry called those "vulture calls," saying teams thought the Cubs may want to unload Patterson now.

"Basically, the calls I've had about him have all had the tone -- without saying it -- that it might be time to pluck him, and that's not true," Hendry said.

The Cubs have 11 games remaining with the St. Louis Cardinals, who lead the National League Central Division, and 10 with Houston, who lead the Wild Card.

"We're not even concerned about everybody else," Walker said. "We have to be concerned about ourselves."

"We've got the opportunity to do a lot of great things," Walker said. "As long as you stay close enough to get a chance to get to the playoffs, that can happen in a week. We're in good shape. We get Nomar back and that will change the dynamics of the team."

The Cubs haven't been able to put together a long winning streak, and need a repeat of their West Coast swing to Los Angeles and San Diego May 30-June 5, when they went 6-1. That trip was preceded by three straight wins over Colorado May 27-29.

"Every game we play from here on out is huge," Walker said. "Now you have a sense of urgency."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.