Braves general manager Frank Wren confirmed the team traded right-handed pitchers Arodys Vizcaino, a top prospect who had season-ending Tommy John surgery in April, and Jaye Chapman to the Cubs. The Braves also got cash in the deal.
With the trade deadline looming Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs figured to keep busy.
Chicago catcher Geovany Soto was pulled from Monday night's 14-4 win over Pittsburgh, as was Johnson, and they both hugged teammates in the dugout. The Cubs later dealt Soto and cash considerations to the Texas Rangers.
"He came out of the game and said goodbye," Cubs backup catcher Steve Clevenger said. "Everybody said he was traded and we went on from there."
Cubs ace Ryan Dempster has attracted interest from several clubs. Recently, a deal to send Dempster to Atlanta fell through.
Instead, with the Braves having won six straight and only 3 1/2 games behind Washington in the NL East and in the thick of the wild-card chase, they plucked another Cubs pitcher.
"It was one of those situations obviously where Atlanta was in the market for a starting pitcher," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a chuckle. "It made the conversation a little bit easier."
"There's certainly no hard feeling from the front office on what happened" with the potential Dempster deal, Hoyer said.
"As the deadline gets closer, people's positions become more clear. I think it will be busy tonight and I think it will be busy in the morning," Hoyer said.
"There will be a lot of calls. Whether we're going to make other deals, we'll see. But I know there will be a lot of phone calls," he said. "I don't think tonight is going to be one with a lot of sleep."
Wren said the team views Vizcaino as a rising power reliever, but he said Maholm and Johnson are players who can make a difference for the Braves' playoff hopes.
"We want to put ourselves in a good position to win the division, not just make the playoffs," Wren said.
"We were looking for a starter, a quality starter that could give us the kind of production we needed up and down the rotation."
Hoyer said trading Maholm, who has an option year for 2013, and Johnson, who will be a free agent, is "the kind of chance we need to take right now."
"We've been really clear all along that we're not contending right now and we need to take assets that are shorter term and turn them into longer term assets," Hoyer said.
"In the case of Vizcaino we had a chance to get a 21-year-old who, while injured right now, has a really bright future. Guy that has a great arm. Kind of power arm we're looking at in the system. Chapman has had good success in Triple-A as a reliever. Another guy we're excited about."
Wren called the deal "a perfect fit" for the Braves' needs.
"We got two real key fits for us," Wren said.
"If we are done, if nothing else transpires tomorrow, we will be real happy with where we are."
Maholm, 29, is 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA, including a 4-0 record and 1.23 ERA in July. He is 62-79 in eight seasons, including seven with Pittsburgh.
"The thing that keeps coming back from our scouts is he doesn't give in," Wren said.
"To have the opportunity to get a quality left-handed pitcher at any time, we're excited about that."
The Braves will have a $6.5 million option to retain Maholm in 2013.
Johnson is hitting .333 against left-handers this season. He is 13 for 29 (.448) as a pinch hitter.
"We need another right-handed hitter," Wren said, adding the team also had interest in Johnson last year.
Chapman is 3-6 with a 3.52 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett. Vizcaino was 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA in 17 games with Atlanta in 2011.
The 35-year-old Johnson is hitting .307 with three homers and 16 RBIs. He has played all three outfield positions and is a career .284 hitter.
Johnson started in center field and led off for the Cubs on Monday night. He reached on an error to start Chicago's nine-run fifth inning. After the Cubs batted around, he was due to bat again in the inning but did not come out onto the on-deck circle.
After a brief delay, David DeJesus was sent out to pinch-hit. TV showed Johnson exchanging hugs with teammates.
"Obviously it's tough to leave the city I've been playing in the last four years, but at the same time, I've got a great opportunity for me to play some baseball on a team that's really legitimately in the hunt and playing good baseball right now," Johnson said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "There is some excitement for sure."
Hoyer wanted to make sure Johnson heard the news from him first.
"It is strange telling two players in the middle of a game," Hoyer said. "It started to leak out about Paul and I wanted to make sure he heard from us first.
"Both guys took it great. They both enjoyed being Cubs."
Added Hoyer: "It's always fun to trade guys to a contender."
Wren said Maholm may join the team in Atlanta on Wednesday. Johnson is expected to join the team on Tuesday.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.