Pirates Set to Downgrade 90-Loss Team

The Pirates in 2011 improved from 105 losses to 90, certainly a significant step forward even though they remain a bad team.  With the playoffs still underway, however, they’ve made it clear that they intend to move quickly backward toward another 100-odd losses in 2012.  It’s long been known that they don’t intend to exercise catcher Ryan Doumit’s two-year, $15.5M option.  Team President Frank Coonelly has now added the news that the team is “unlikely” to exercise left-handed starter Paul Maholm’s $9.75M option for 2012, or to sign Maholm to a multi-year extension.

Make no mistake, these are significant downgrades.  Maholm has been an underappreciated pitcher for years, struggling along with a Keystone Kops defense behind him.  The absence of fielders who can catch the ball has left him with ERAs that have often been much higher than his fielding independent pitching ratings, which roughly attempt to measure what a pitcher’s ERA would have been had his team fielded an average defense for him.  The Pirates finally made significant defensive improvements in 2011 and, largely as a result, Maholm posted a career-best 3.66 ERA.  What’s more, once you adjust for the terrible defense that has burdened Maholm in most years, he’s been a very consistent starter.  Now the Pirates will go into 2012 with four established starters.  All of the four are major question marks.  Well, actually, Kevin Correia isn’t a question mark.  He’s simply a replacement level pitcher who wouldn’t start for a competitive team.  But the three remaining starters all lack track records, and now we know that Charlie Morton will be coming back from major surgery.  The rotation hung on by a thread for four months last year.  As soon as any adversity hit them, the team fell to pieces.  A pitching staff with so little margin for error can’t afford to lose its most reliable starter.

Doumit has his problems behind the plate, but in 2011, when he was available, he was one of the few bright spots in an atrocious lineup.  Here’s where the Pirates ranked in the NL in OPS at each position:

Catcher:  7th
Firstbase:  15th
Secondbase:  3rd
Thirdbase:  15th
Shortstop:  12th
Leftfield:  11th
Centerfield:  2nd
Rightfield:  15th

That seventh ranking at catcher came despite Doumit missing half the year.  If Mike McKenry had been the catcher all year, the Pirates would have ranked 15th, well below the #14 team.  Without Doumit, the Pirates’ “offense” goes from being terrible at all but three positions to being terrible at all but two.

Declining these options might make sense if the Pirates could use the money to upgrade, but they can’t.  In fact, they’re very unlikely even to be able to replace Maholm’s and Doumit’s production, a reality that makes upgrading their 90-loss team nearly impossible.  Catchers who can hit simply aren’t available.  At this stage, the Pirates are probably looking at the position being shared by McKenry, Jason Jaramillo and Matt Pagnozzi.  McKenry and Jaramillo are decent backups, but neither has the bat to play regularly, especially on a team that already gets bottom-feeding offense from the corner positions.  Pagnozzi’s lengthy minor league hitting performance makes McKenry look like Johnny Bench.  The Pirates no doubt will add some other cheap option to compete for the starting job, but the odds of it being somebody noticeably better than McKenry or Jaramillo are slim.  The free agent ranks are filled with catchers who are in their mid- to late-30s and nearing the end, and catchers who simply can’t hit at all, or both.  Guys like Dioner Navarro, Matt Treanor, Gerald Laird, Brian Schneider and Josh Bard, all of whom will struggle to put up a .600 OPS.  Probably the only ones with average-ish bats, apart from Doumit, will be Ramon Hernandez and Rod Barajas, both of whom will likely be scarfed up by more competitive teams that are more concerned with improving than getting bargains.  Letting Doumit walk can only lead to a significant downgrade on offense for a team that’s seen its hitting slide steadily downhill under Neal Huntington.

Maholm won’t be any easier to replace.  As with catcher, the Pirates don’t have any ready prospects, at least not ones who figure to be anywhere near as good as Maholm, much less better.  Whether they go into the free agent market or try to trade for a pitcher, in the unlikely event they find one they can acquire who’s similar in ability to Maholm, they’ll most likely have to pay him at least as much as they’re already unwilling to pay Maholm.  The upper-seven and lower-eight figures are the going rate for a mid-rotation starting pitcher.  Just a few examples:  Jake Westbrook, who’s basically a right-handed Maholm, is signed for $8.5M next year even though he’s five years older and much more of a health risk.  Ted Lilly, who’s a little better than Maholm but also six years older, is signed for $22.5M over the next two years.  Aaron Cook, another pitcher who was very similar to Maholm until arm problems hit him, signed three years ago for three years and $30M.  Randy Wolf is another similar pitcher who’s been a little better than Maholm recently but has been more erratic over his career.  He got a little under $28M for three years.  Maholm’s option very closely reflects his market price, except it’s a one-year commitment rather than the two or three years the Pirates would have to commit to an equivalent replacement.  If you’re not going to pay market value for a player, how are you going to replace him in the open market?

If letting Doumit and Maholm walk was a move intended to free up money to make the team better, it’d make sense, but it’s not.  There’s very little chance the Pirates can use that money to improve the team.  They probably can’t even use it to replace Doumit and Maholm.  Maybe they have some valuation model that tells them that the two players aren’t “worth” their option costs.  The trouble is, the goal in baseball isn’t to have the lowest cost per win.  It’s to win the most games.  The Pirates don’t seem to understand that a player’s abstract “value” and the cost of improving a team often don’t correlate.  That’s because players aren’t often available at an amount equal to their “value.”  In fact, they rarely are because the free agent market artificially inflates the cost of veteran players, while younger, cost-effective players are rarely available unless a team develops them itself, because nobody wants to trade them.  Moves like this call into question whether the Pirates are focused as much on winning as they are on getting bargains for the sake of getting bargains.

Addendum:  Neal Huntington has now confirmed that the Pirates will not pay Maholm $9.7M to play for them next year, but states that they’ll hang onto his option until the last moment in case they can trade him.  So now they’ve slightly weakened their bargaining position by telling the world that, if nobody trades for him, he’ll be on the free agent market.

Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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I wonder if Neil knows that a 200-per year loss team isn’t possible in the majors?  That’s his goal with these moves right?  


I’m sorry but to all the sports casters who said Neil Huntington is the man for the job you can enjoy my middle finger. He may have built this team for the future, but he doesn’t give a damn about the present. NH stinks as a gm, and extending him is just another example how far behind and clueless this team is. They won’t be getting my money again this year.

Todd Smith

You think the Pirates have it bad, imagine how screwed the Royals are right now.  They managed to lose only 91 games last year, but now Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis are both free agents.  That’s just not possible to get over a downgrade like that.  We all know young players never improve past their first or second season in the majors – and it’s far too late for the Royals to go out and add any new pieces to their team.  Looks like it’s going to be another 100 loss season for the Royals with no hope on the horizon for them, ever.

Thanks for the laughs.  Was a funny article.

Ron Leighton

Slogan for 2012 – let’s improve the team by having slightly below average players at 6 or 7 positions and a below average starting rotation.

Then the team’s goal for 2014 can be to finally get to average. 

Not very exciting plan.


Havent checked back on this in a while lotta anger in here. I thought I saw that both Doumit and Snyder are type B free agents, so i would think that the FO would try to make a deal for them to decline arbitration. Giving them an opportunity to get a 1st round pick when they are signed. So if they dont think they can get a suitable replacement for either I would think declining their options(especially Doumit because its 2 years) and offering arb would be the most logical way to go. To me a think its a risk well worth taking. Its the same thing they may be forced to do with Derek Lee. So worst case you save $18 mill and get 3 1st round picks. Best case you get a catcher a 1b and a pick.

I also think this is another huge strike against Maholms worth. If he was at least a type B they most assuredly would have declined his option and collected the draft picks.

Look at the past years draft Tampa had i think 11 picks in the first rd Boston and Toronto also had a high number. This happens when teams have to be willing to not overpay mediocrity. If people ever question letting guys walk look to Tampa even the last couple playoff years. Completely retooled bullpen and starting rotation. And soon James Sheilds Jeff Nieman will be gone like Garza Hammel Kazmir before them.Paul Maholm is not gonna improve after age 30 and what does giving him $9 for a year in which this teams high side is probably 78 wins.

Just dont use the excuse its always the Pirates. Take a second look around the league see what theyve done. Baltimore lotsa $ just as bad as the Bucs, KC blew their wad after 1 .500 season tricked them into thinking they were good, Cubs filled with bad guys with terrible contracts, even the Yankees probably regret the 2nd Arod deal. etc etc

Thens the teams that do it right like Tampa, Toronto is starting too, Florida for years did a decent job. Hate to say it but even the Brewersand to an extent but having to MVP candidates gives you flexibilty to make riskier moves(CC,Greinke, etc). Even Boston with all of their $ is largely homegrown. Take the Dbacks this year they dropped a lot of dead weight(Mark reynolds,etc) and added mostly bullpen arms and defense to a team that mostly had Upton and everyone else

Point being even the Steelers get rid of guys BEFORE they hit their twilight and the NFL is the most fair system for teams to operate in. Matter of fact the heavy extensions they shelled out this year could prove to be a huge mistake.

The Pirates cant be wont be and shouldnt be run anything like the Yankees or Phillies or even the Cardinals. Those teams can make up for monetary mistakes the Bucs surely cannot. So whether Maholm or Doumit is worth the $ is almost irrelevant. Its purely illogical to get upset over two 30 somethings, who history says are regressing, and whos highest point career wise has been average. These guys arent not championship baseball players and thats the kind of guys I want.

Richard Haft

I generally agree with the statement we shouldn’t overcompensate mediocre players, and we want champion players, but being realistic that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.  In the case of the Steelers, they get rid of players when they have another player ready to step up behind him who is younger and hopefully better.  People on here say Cedeno, Maholm and Doumit are mediocre, but they have no easy replacements for those slots. I want them to pay when it is the best available option.  Getting rid of the best players they have at a position when they have no replacement is what angers us fans.  Who is going to replace Doumit, McHenry with his .220 avg. and two homers?  Cedeno? with D’Arnud..he can’t hit and was awful in the field.  I can see not picking up Maholm, at least they have some options in the minors that deserve their shot, even if they fail. Now we have to hope they pick up someone in the offseason who will probably be just as expensive and also hope they will actually come here.  I think letting them go was dumb. 


Absolutely agree.  The Pirates shouldn’t spend on mediocrity, either their own or someone else’s.  I don’t have a problem with letting Maholm go, just as I’ve never thought signing over priced stop gap veterans was good idea.  I just hope the Pirates continue this kind of decision making when they look at the next crop of Lyle Overbays and Kevin Corrieas.

I wrote in another post that there is a relationship between spending and winning.  What I didn’t mention is that there is a proper time to spend.  For the Pirates, this isn’t the time.


“For the Pirates, this isn’t the time.”  For the Pirates, it is never the time.

Bob Ross

I disagree with the assumptions on here that Doumit can’t stay healthy to the extent that its not a knock on him.  Catchers get hurt, we learned that first hand this year.  He has been injured, but he broke his leg blocking home plate, and last year he had a concussion.  Crosby has been out a year with the same injury.  I have seen no indication from Doumit that he doesn’t play hard when healthy, in fact he was one of our best hitters this year. Catchers spend hours a game squatting, getting hit by balls and being run over on plays to the plate.  He has been unlucky is all.  Its actually rare for a catcher not to get hurt all year.

Although he isn’t the best fielding catcher in the world, he also isn’t the worst.  Plus the HUGE drop off offensively between him and Jason “Mr. Mendoza line” Jaramillo and McHenry makes picking up the option a no brainer.  Please people stop with the hustle = good stuff.  McHenry hustles..so what? aren’t you supposed to? He hit .220 with 2 home runs.  On a team that has no power in the corner outfield, and none coming in the future, letting him go makes no baseball sense. To be trading a bat for defense, the defensive upgrade should be HUGE. From the stats I see on here, Jaramillo and McHenry are a little better defensively and awful hitting with no power in exchange for losing an above average to very good hitting catcher that’s average defensively.  Its just not worth it.

Finally, who else are they spending money on? Why not pay him..to let both Doumit and Maholm go shows more of the same from this group.  They are not signing McCutchen to a big deal..he is not stupid like Tabata (who has hardly proven anything yet) and he has no home ties like Walker.  He will play out his string and declare free agency unless the Pirates pay at least fare market value, and maybe a little more unless they start winning in a hurry.  

Unless they can get Snyder back, their line up will have two easy outs in the eight and nine hole. Its 2009 all over again.

Brian Bernard

Everyone has their measuring stick and mine is my eyes… and I think that Doumit is just coming into his own as a high quality player and a quality leader. Switch hitters, dirtbags, power – I just liked him and I don’t think he’s injury prone so much as he’s been unlucky. Luck changes and I think another two year deal with Dewey would have sat real well with me.
Maholm to me was also starting to improve – his ability to pitch inside effectively and down was really evident this year – HOWEVER, his fastball at times was only hitting 86mph… you just can’t do 9-10 million when velocity is down that way. You have to look at other options from wherever they come from. 

Overall judgement needs to be reserved until Clint and the FO complete the roster for next spring. Until we see the plan unfold I think it’s extremely premature to criticize it.


This is the standard m.o. for this FO.  Salary dump every player that is making any money and then say we have to “wait and see” how things work out before we criticize their plan.  I have “waited and saw” long enough.


The only thing I know is that 4 years into the Huntington era and this team is no better now than it was when Littlefield was left go.  The major league roster is a joke with the “talent” it has on it and the greatest thing is that it’s getting weaker with the declining of Maholm and Doumit (when we don’t have the pieces in the system to give equal stats for either).  The supposed influx of talent that is coming through the minors is almost nonexistant.  From Pedro Alvarez not understanding how to hit MLB to Tony Sanchez turning into Matt Diaz.  Other than 4 pitches who haven’t pitched above short A ball there isn’t much on the horizon in terms of pitching.  Our current best offensive prospect (Marte)…he’s a left over from the Littlefield era as was our biggest surprise from this year Alex Presley.

This organization’s talent pool is a joke, 4 years in and you’d think the GM would have actually helped out the cause instead of just letting continue as is.  Not surprising though since Nutting won’t spend the money.


Very good article on Maholm.  I hope you survive it.




Here’s a nice little rumor I’ll start: the best mgmt team in baseball will give $6MM to Overbay to come back for 4 months till they DFA him at the end of July. Frick and Frack will tell the gullible fans that they expect him to rebound in ’12 when he’s signed.

Expect more rotten “investments” with the money saved from letting a dependable innings eating starter go and replacing him with, say Ohlendorf.


In what world is a 160 inning pitcher an inning eater? The waffling back and forth is insane. The same people saying we should have traded Maholm and Hanrahan at the deadline are the same people that would have been screaming at the top of their lungs for tanking while we were contenders! Any fan that really follows this team, knew that it wouldn’t last. But it’s hard to believe there’s this much debate over keeping a mediocre pitcher who is replaceable, and a bad defensive catcher who can’t stay healthy for half the season. If Doumit could stay healthy for 120-130 games a year, I’d want to keep him. But his history shows that will never happen. If they can sign Maholm for around 5-6 mill per, I’d say keep him around. But 9,75 mill? I’d rather see them go after an Edwin Jackson or someone like that.


Including the 2011 season, Maholm has averaged 183.45 innings per year. That’s 6 full seasons. That looks like an innings eater to me. We have different definitions. 

The Truth

I don’t know why I am surprised, but people are once again defending the Pirates management for not spending money to sign their own productive major league players, because it might be an “overpayment” to some extent.     This team has absolutely no starting pitching even close to the major leagues of which to speak (I’m not even slightly impressed with the uneven track records of Lincoln or Locke), and are somehow willing to let Maholm walk after a season where he put up an ERA+ of 105 and WHIP of 1.29 because he pitched above his career norms and he might not match that level of production to earn his salary for 2012?     And this is supposedly a bigger deal than trying to replace his innings and performance for 2012 with no in-house replacements, and losing a valuable starting pitcher at a point of high value for absolutely no return?      


This FO is a selfish, greedy cheapskate group of carpetbaggers whose only concern is enriching themselves at the expense of Pirate fans.


Way to add value to the discussion, dude.

Tim Williams

Actually, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that Maholm is worth the $9.75 M. Most people in this discussion want to keep him.


Meant: No 4 pitcher is not worth 9mil to me.

Bob W

Bottom 5 in MLB in runs scored, OPS, and about 8,000 other offensive stats, and the Pirates don’t need offense?? Really??

Your starting rotation on Opening Day 2012 as of now…Karstens, McDonald, Correia, Lincoln and either a 3rd line free agent, Brian Burres, or the winner of the Wilson/Owens sweepstakes. Anyone counting on Morton being ready for the starting rotation by Opening Day isn’t being realistic. The Pirates will be lucky if he is facing live batters by the middle of March, let alone go 6 innings by Opening Day. And if anyone has paid attention the last 18 years, the Opening Day starter has about an 80 percent track record of having an ERA that season above 4.50 (usually well above) and/or missing a significant portion of the season due to injury.


Offense not scoring enough runs and the team needing other critical pieces are two different things.
Of course the Pirates could use more offense, but that includes everything from needing a batting coach to a 3rd basemen that is supposed to hit.
What they don’t have is an eighth inning stopper, and they don’t have any where near an Ace pitcher, someone that is strong enough to be around in August and September.
When it comes to Doumit, no team in baseball wanted him, they could not even give him away, not even an American league team.
Catchers are judged on Defense first, hitting 2nd, Doumit, if he could hit for an entire year and that is a big if, might hit 250, McHenry probably would hit around 240. I will take the 240 and better catching and keep my 15mil in my pocket for other pieces.
Malhom is probably worth around 9mil, I guess the big question is, is he worth 9mil to the Pirates? No 4 pitcher is worth 9mil to me.

Tim Williams

Maholm is more than a #4 pitcher. I did an article last year looking at the league averages for the 2010 season. The league average for a number two starter was a 3.61 ERA. A number three starter was a 4.15 ERA. A number four starter was a 4.62 ERA. In the top 15 rotations in the league, a number three starter was a 3.73 ERA, and a number four starter was a 4.20 ERA. In the bottom 15 rotations, a numbers two starter was a 3.91 ERA, and a number three was a 4.56 ERA.

Maholm is a number three starter. He’s a number two in a bad rotation, and he’s a number four only in a top rotation. But based on the league average results, he was a number three.


You could make a case for a lot of different numbers for pitchers, but to me Maholm is average to mediocre. That translates to replaceable.
You also could make a case that with the 15mil you save with Doumit and the 9mil you save with Maholm that you have 24mil to work with next year, that is almost enough to buy Fielder, not that I expect that to happen, but for sure they could use that money to upgrade over Maholm and Doumit.

Tim Williams

The $15 M for Doumit is over two years. Also, you need to come up with that money for about 6-7 years. I don’t think you do that and retain guys like McCutchen and Walker through their arbitration years.


I love how blind Buc supporters say Doumit and Maholm can be easily replaced.  Right.  Like that was done so well this year by McKenry, who OPSed an incredibly awful 598 compared to Doumits 830.  Oh wait, McKenry is a fort on defense, until you look at him objectively, say for example his 250 CS rate v Doumits 241.  Wow, that one extra caught stealing will sure make up for 232 OPS points. 

Lets not even go to Maholm.  Did anyone notice the stench from our pitchers in AA and AAA this year?  Sorry, if you cant make it there, you arent going to make it in the majors.  We have no pitching depth, which helped lead to the epic collapse of another sad season.

Other teams just laugh at us, as they pick up our players for market value, which this team utterly refuses to pay.  Internal value to NH means half price dumpster diving for garbage like Diaz, Overbay and Corriea.

Ed Smallwood

That’s exactly it.  I have no particular love for Maholm, but there are ZERO internal candidates that can be looked at as ready to be given a major league job (and I’m highly skeptical that Lincoln can be remotely counted on at all or that Morton can be counted to be ready for April either).  You’re thus giving Locke or Justin Wilson or some other marginal AAA guy that spot or going onto the market to acquire a free agent pitcher.  What are the chances that anyone they can sign will outperform Maholm?  It’s far more likely they’ll get another Kevin Correia than it is that they’ll add a guy who’s as good or better than Maholm.  I can understand the other side of Doumit, but there simpy are no available replacements for Maholm and to just let him walk is not going to improve the team.

Ian Rothermund

I think we should let Maholm walk, because it’s outright stupid to resign a mediocre talent like him for 10 million, or anything near it.  A) it’s unlikely that he’ll produce at the same level he did this past year, and B) we can replicate that production with about half the money.  We should have traded mid-season this year.  I think Doumit’s situation is an odd one, his bat was better this year, but can we assume that he’ll do just as well, and his defense is just atrocious.  We’ll never find better alternatives if we stick with the same old losers.

Micah Scheindlin

Well, your objective look at their defense is pretty weak. Stolen base % relies largely on the pitchers and the situations in which guys run, which the catcher doesn’t control. When you look at advanced stats, McKenry is basically average in categories like Defensive Runs Saved and Stolen Base Runs Saved, whereas Doumit is below average and one of the NL’s worst in DRS. In a more basic stat, Doumit had 4 passed balls to McKenry’s 1, even though McKenry caught slightly more innings.

But then there’s also the issue of how they call a game and handle the pitchers, which is too subjective for me to pass judgment on. That said, I don’t think anyone would argue that Doumit is somehow exceptional with the staff. 

I don’t think anybody’s saying we can replace Doumit’s offense with our organizational options. What I’m arguing is that we need to focus on getting offensive production in the corner infield and outfield, and if we do that we can afford to go for defense behind the plate. The problem is guys like Overbay and Diaz, not McKenry and Jaramillo. If we were even average offensively at 1B and 3B, we’d be scoring far more runs no matter who was catching. 

That said, Pirate fans are quick to forget we offered $10 million a year to Jorge De La Rosa last offseason. Regardless of how you feel about De La Rosa, that was market value for one of the better free agents in that class. The question moving forward is whether the Pirates can get anyone to sign at that level when they offer. 


The problem is with Overbay, Diaz AND McKenry and Jarimillo.  They are all awful at playing baseball.  There is no stat you can produce that shows any of those four guys is remotely close to a major league average ballplayer.

Besides, if your goal is to get a good 1b and 3b, that means you dump Pedro and likely dont give Hague a shot at 1b.  Thats quite the plan to rebuild. 

Micah Scheindlin

Yet again, lots of assumptions and misrepresenting what I said. Dumping Pedro is the only way to get a good 3B? What a bunch of crap. Pedro had a terrible year, but he’s young and still has all the raw tools to be an above-average power hitter. If the Pirates have a better option in the system, I don’t see it. If there’s a viable buy, again, I don’t see it.

As first base goes, I think you might get pretty good offensive production by platooning Garrett Jones with someone who can hit lefties. GFJ had an .808 OPS and 14 HR in 355 ABs against righties. That’s not elite, but it’s pretty good. Find someone with an equivalent OPS against lefties, and you’ve got a nice situation. Yes, Diaz was supposed to be that guy this year, but he was also a crap defender and showed absolutely no power. Hague’s splits imply he won’t be the other half of that platoon, but I’m not opposed to giving him a shot. 

As for McKenry and Jaramillo, they’re both solid defensive catchers with slightly below average bats for their position. They both profile as backups. That doesn’t mean that Doumit is necessarily a good investment. I’m with Tim, I’d rather look for a middle ground in a guy like Rod Barajas. 

Obviously it’s not gonna be easy to get a good lineup on the field in 2012 and beyond, especially with only McCutchen and Walker performing above average for their position overall. We’re gonna need improvement from guys like Tabata, Presley and Pedro, and probably some new blood at other positions, be it rookies or veterans. And we’ll probably have to endure watching those guys’ slumps while they develop. 

I disagree with you less about individual players as I do the overall problem. The Pirates are a small-market team with low prestige. They can only bid on a handful of significant free agents, and most of those guys will take equal or even less money to go elsewhere. That’s not Neal Huntington’s fault. His job is to make the best investments he can while building the farm system. He hasn’t been perfect, but I think the organization has made progress since he and Coonnelly took over baseball operations. 

Bob W

They already had someone that had (and still has) a .800+ OPS against LHP to go with Jones before they signed Overpaid…Steve Pearce. They decided not to play him.  

Kent Ries

IF we could find someone to platoon with Jones we would have a decent 1b……except to date, thats not been done.  So although NH couldnt do that the past two years, you just assume he will in 2012, leading us to contention.   Who is making ridiculous assumptions here?

IF Pedro hits in 2012, we will have a decent 3b.  Of course we all know he was among the worst batters in baseball this year, but lets just assume that was a brief hiccup on his way to the HOF.  Again, who is making assumptions?

McKenry and Jaramillo are decent defensively, certainly not above average.  Neither can hit well enough to be more than borderline backups.  But go ahead, lets contend with them in the lineup as well.

Considering our offense was putrid all year, and has been putrid for several years now, I dont think contention is on the near term horizon.  My main point in all this is still the same, we are much more likely to lose 100 games in 2012 than win 82.  Those who think otherwise are hoping for repeats of career years from Hanrahan, Karstens, Morton, McDonald, basically the bulk of our 2011 innings.  Plus they are hoping that multiple hitters have career years in 2012, like Pedro and Tabata and Presley.  Good luck with that. 

Every team in the majors would win if the bulk of their players played up to expectations and beyond, and didnt have anyone fall backwards.  Rarely happens. 

You also ignore that the AA and AAA part of this organization once again was nearly a complete failure, not just for providing players for 2011, but for giving hope for 2012.  The pitchers tanked, universally.  Marte had a good year, as did Presley.  Beyond that, the hope for any significant support, let alone impact, is pretty unlikely.  Without that depth, the hope to contend in 2012 is even more ludicrous than it appears.

Micah Scheindlin

I’m not assuming these things will absolutely go right. I’m arguing that we don’t have better options than to try them. Pedro could suck, Pedro could fulfill his potential, Pedro could end up somewhere in between. But I think our best bet is to try to develop Pedro, rather than attempting to spend our limited resources on a free agent 3B. 

If contention isn’t on the near-term horizon, and I’m inclined to agree with you about that, we may as well bash our heads against the wall playing the younger guys. The ones with upside, anyway.

My point wasn’t to claim that if we stick with our current players, everything will go right and we’ll contend in 2012. My point was that given our situation, it’s rare that making a high-dollar investment in a veteran will actually be worthwhile. If you’re convinced we have virtually no chance on contending in 2012, why give Doumit $9 million a year? You say your point is that we’re more likely to lose 100 next year then win 82, and you’re probably right about that. My original point was that I felt that Maholm is a worthwhile investment relative to our other pitching options, but Doumit is not relative to our situation for the position players. For the reasons I’ve stated in other posts, I stand by that. 


“As for McKenry and Jaramillo, they’re both solid defensive catchers with slightly below average bats for their position.”

They’re not just slightly below average.  The average NL catcher, including backups, had a .708 OPS in 2011, and that was with Posey out all year.  McKenry has a career OPS of .577, Jaramillo .621.  They might improve a little with playing time, but they might not.  Jaramillo is now 29 and McKenry will open next season at 27.  Neither has hit well in AAA and both declined pretty rapidly as they got to the upper levels in the minors, which was an indication that they lacked projection.  Most likely they’re both as good as they’re going to get.  They’re strictly backups, the sort of guys you’d want behind a 130-game type starter, not in a job-share arrangement.


I think the article is a lot of words to describe the value of a No.4 pitcher and a catcher that can’t catch. These guys are easy to replace.
Maholm was of little or no value from August till the end of the year, on top of him being a No. 4, he did have a shoulder problem.
Doumit was not around when the team went into first place, they got there without him and they slid out of first place with him. Also when Doumit came back the pitching staff went into clear decline.

Hitting is not the critical pieces that this team needs, Pitching is, they have a bunch of No. 4’s, they need at least to trade for a No. 2 and possibly pick up a No. 3 somewhere, a No. 1 is pretty much out of the question, no one is going to trade the Pirates for one and their is nothing on the FA market they could get.

Tim Williams

I agree with Matt.  I don’t think losing Doumit is a big deal.  As I pointed out Monday, he’s one of the worst defensive options that is available.  The Pirates could easily replace his production.  That might be in the form of more defense and less offense, but the overall value would be the same or greater.

I haven’t really looked at the pitching market.  I suggested trading Maholm when the market was so favorable for pitchers in July.  I also feel that $9.75 M is well worth the price for his production (assuming his injury isn’t serious).  I like Morton, Karstens, and McDonald for the rotation.  I’d like to see Lincoln given a shot.  That leaves one more spot.  Again, I haven’t looked at the potential market (that article is for Monday), so I’m not sure how easy it could be to get Maholm’s production elsewhere.


Right about Maholm’s injury concerns, too.  We have no idea how serious it is or not and I would not be willing to put 20% of the team’s payroll into a gamble on a starting pitcher’s health.


Maholm got a clean bill of health on his shoulder.  This was the report on him:

“LHP Paul Maholm (sore left shoulder) missed the final month, but the
possibility of surgery never was raised even after two visits to Dr.
James Andrews. He is expected to be ready for spring training.”


If they take these steps backwards, they will still have the offseason to spend the savings on superior talent and thus end up ahead.  But if they are looking at each player in isolation and calculating in light of their infamous internal evaluations, then it could end badly.

Bob W

Spend on superior talent? Ummm…when have they had a track record of even finding superior talent, let alone spend on it?


I can see the argument for bringing Maholm back, but Doumit is another story.  I have him projected to hit .264/.329/.424 in about 350 plate appearances next year.  That is very solid for a catcher, but Doumit gives back most of that production with his awful defense. He is basically a one-win player, once you account for his defense and injury issues.  The team will definitely take an offensive hit from the catcher position, but a .753 OPS shouldn’t be too difficult to replace somewhere else on the diamond.

The larger problem is the front office’s inability to find any offense from positions like first base, IMO.

Ed Smallwood

There were a total of 10 major league catchers with more than 350 plate appearances who OPS’ed over .750.  Simply dismissing that kind of production as easily replaced or largely irrelevant is silly.  And really, what are the options?  Before lauding cutting Doumit free, shouldn’t one evaluate the internal and external options to take his place? 


 Most of those catchers are far better defenders than Doumit, widening the gap in value.

What I’m saying is, instead of committing $15 million to Doumit so he can put up a .750 OPS with poor defense while bringing in 2012’s version of Lyle Overbay to put up a .649 OPS, why not find (either internally or externally) some first baseman who can give you a .750 OPS and a decent defensive catcher who can manage at least a .649 OPS? It shouldn’t be too hard to find those players, who would both be well below average for their position.


Being well below average for their postitions is a Buc tradition the past 20 years.  Its why the odds are much higher that we lose 100 games next year than win 82.  Anyone who writes a story that this team will contend in 2012 shouldnt be taken seriously.  We lost 90 games this year when we had 4 starters catch lighting in a bottle for 100 games.


Sure good pitching, but also don’t forget that the Pirates also lost those games with almost zero production from 1st base and 3rd base.

Tim Williams

If offense is the only thing that matters, then we can take an .800 OPS outfielder and put him behind the plate, with no worries about his defense. The fact is that defense is very important behind the plate.

Of the example you gave, there were 10 other guys with an OPS in the .680-.750 range. I’m betting that of those 20 guys, you can find a guy who can put up much better defense, and you wouldn’t lose much off of Doumit’s projected offense. Not to mention, Doumit isn’t on this list of guys with 350+ plate appearances, because he was injured. As we know, that’s not exactly a rare occurance for Doumit, and I’m surprised it’s getting overlooked in favor of his offense.

Ed Smallwood

Ok, so who is that guy?  What free agent catcher, what AAA catcher who is blocked at the major league level, what backup who just needs an opportunity, etc., is out there for the Pirates to get (while outbidding other teams that need a catcher, of course) that will OPS around .700 with good defense?  I sure don’t know of such a candidate.


Perhaps the Pirates can pry Devin Mesoraco from the Reds.  They have an overabundance of catchers, and might be willing to give him up for the right price.

Tim Williams

Mesoraco is the catcher of the future in Cincinnati.


I thought that was Grandal now!  Plus Hanigan is signed for the next few years.  The Reds certainly don’t need all of those catchers.  I’d imagine Mesoraco could be had for the right price (Goodbye Hanrahan??)


Plus the Pirates could play the whole local kid angle with Mesoraco!


Or if the Reds are insistent on keeping Mesoraco, then how about going after Grandal.  A Sanchez/Grandal catching tandem would look pretty good in 2013!


I’m not saying that the Pirates should have kept Maholm or Doumit, at their current prices.  I wouldn’t have.  Still, WTM’s is accurate.  Right now, the Pirates are downgrading at two positions.  They are downgrading a 90 loss team at two positions.

The Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz experience has shown why they won’t get a catcher, with some bat and some defense to pick up the slack of losing Doumit’s bat.  Even if they do, they will greatly overpay for that catcher; negating at least part of the savings of letting Doumit and Maholm go.

They will overpay because: Their history shows that they overpay for position players, especially ones who don’t or can’t produce offensively. There will be a market for catchers that the Pirates are looking for.  Just after a quick scan, the Red Sox, Rays, Angels, Mariners, Marlins, Astros, Dodgers, and Padres are teams likely to be looking for a veteran or stop gap catcher.  Depending on circumstances, teams like the Reds, Twins, Rockies, and Giants may also be looking for a catcher.  That means 8 to 12 teams will be bidding with the Pirates for catchers like Hernandez and Barrajas.  The Pirates will have to overpay to get one of them.

The only problem that I have with letting both players go is that they get nothing for them, not even picks.  This failure is probably related to the false idea that the Pirates were a serious contender as late July of this year.  Maybe Neal was offering up Maholm and Doumit during the season, but it seems unlikely. Trading those guys, no matter how unpopular, was the right thing to do this year.  Not trading them and getting nothing in return is a failure of the front office.  The long term should have been the focus, not the near term.

I would hope this move, letting Maholm go, and letting Doumit are signals that the Pirates are adopting a Moneyball or Tampa Bay approach to building the team.  These resource savings should be immediately reinvested in signing McCutchen to a long term (6 to 7 years) deal.  The team should look for value, not the best available option or short term incremental improvements.  Finally, the team should go young.  Its obvious the team isn’t going to compete next year or possibly even 2013.  The Pirates should be investing in players who will be here 3 or 4 years from now.

Look at what Tampa has done.  They haven’t had a regular starting pitcher over the age of 29 since 2006.  They’ve either developed their own young starting pitchers or brought in young starting pitchers.  They have brought few positions players, for regular roles, over the age of 30.  When they did it, they were already competing.  As an aside, Andrew Friedman would probably tell you that one of those over 30, Pat Burrell, was probably his biggest mistake.  The Pirates should follow this model, get value and stay young.  There should be no moves (bringing in stop gap vets) made to appease fans or to build on the “progress” of this past season.

At this point in time, there is no way to say that letting Maholm and Doumit go is anything but a downgrade for next season.  In that respect, WTM is right.  He is also right about the offense.  To say it is a black hole, is an insult to those astro-physical phenomena.  Where I disagree with WTM is that its the right thing to do from value and long term perspectives.  Others, advocating short term pick ups and incremental improvements, whether veteran starting pitchers or catchers, would make a bad situation worse.

WTM’s article is factually correct, his assumptions are realistic, and it is well written.  It represents this site well.


I’m confused (admit it’s easily done) but didn’t the Pirates already purge the roster a couple of years ago to bring in youngsters—most of whom have done little.

The best mgmt team in baseball continues its blind trek to ensure the Pirates never return to winning baseball.


No.  They may have purged it but they continue to bring in older players, who had little value and demonstrated even less while with the Pirates.  When they stop bringing in players like Overbay, Iwamura, Corriea, Church, Crosby, and Vazquez, I will agree they are in a full rebuild mode.

The problem now is that fans who mildly follow the game, believe the Pirates are moving forward based on the record through July.  They didn’t.  The offense is horrendous.  The starting pitching was nice, if you believe in fangraphs, it was not really that great.  Still, until those moderate success that was experienced, is repeated, even the starting pitching is suspect.

Since they’ve apparently let Maholm go (they could sign him off the free agent market), I would let Locke take his place.  I would move Corriea somehow and let Lincoln have his shot.

Tim Williams

I wrote this on Monday:
I’d take Ramon Hernandez or Rod Barajas over Doumit any day. Better defense, not a big drop off in offense (I expect both to be around a .700 OPS), and they won’t miss half the season.


Except the chances of the Pirates signing one of those guys are about the same as them signing Prince Fielder.  They’re the two best catchers on the market.  Some other team will offer above the Pirates’ internal value and the Pirates will fall back on whichever FA catcher no other team wants.  That’s how they got Overbay and Correia.

Todd Smith

Clearly, other teams will be distracted by the huge bidding war going on over Ryan Doumit’s services – and will forget all about Ramon Hernandez.

Tim Williams

That’s your opinion. I disagree. Hernandez has been around $3 M a year for the last three years, although it’s hard to say whether he will get more, as he didn’t test free agency and just re-signed with the Reds each time. Barajas was at $3.25 M last year, signing in December with the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, the Pirates had Doumit at $5.2 M and Snyder at $5.75 M (minus the $3 M from Arizona). The market rate seems to be around $3-3.5 M for Hernandez and Barajas, based on their past contracts. If the Pirates are fine committing almost $8 M to their catching combo, then I don’t see how Hernandez and Barajas are out of their price range, or outside of their value range. So the “value” argument doesn’t seem to fit this situation, since they’ve clearly been fine spending more than what it would take to sign Hernandez or Barajas.


You’re assuming that once the Pirates offer whatever they’re making this year, everybody else will drop out.  But if the Pirates offer $3M, somebody else that needs a catcher will offer $3.5M.  In the end, somebody else will offer more.  (And that’s leaving aside the point that second-tier FAs like Barajas and Hernandez generally seem unwilling to play in Pgh. as long as they’ve got other offers.)  The Pirates have consistently shown that their valuation of players is below other teams’.  That’s my main point in the article.  Maholm is an asset they badly need given the shakiness of their rotation and his option is very close to his fair market value, yet they aren’t willing to pay it.  That’s why their apparent decision is so disturbing.  If you’re not willing to pay a fair market price, you can’t compete in the market.  In the end, you end up with the guys nobody else wants, which is what’s always happened with the Pirates.

Doumit and Snyder don’t prove anything because they were locked into Doumit’s contract, negotiated at a time when they thought he’d be a better player.  And they got Snyder with the expectation that they’d trade Doumit and relieve themselves of his salary.  To their credit, they didn’t when they couldn’t get enough talent in return, but paying both Doumit and Snyder wasn’t the plan.

Tim Williams

You’re assuming two things here. First, you’re assuming that the Pirates won’t go above $3.5. Second, you’re assuming that there’s always going to be a team waiting to outbid the Pirates.


Those aren’t assumptions.  History is on my side here.  This is what’s always happened.  Every.  Single.  Time.


This is true.  The Pirates, especially under Neal, have very little history of acquiring veteran position players or starting pitchers, who have any success.  As I stated in my initial post, a third to half the league will be looking to sign a catcher.

Tim Williams

It’s October 12th. We don’t know who is looking for a catcher. We don’t know what Barajas and Hernandez will want. We don’t know what they will be offered. We don’t know what the Pirates would be willing to offer them. We don’t know whether other teams would top those offers. Any comment that says the Pirates will be outbid because another team will offer more is clearly an assumption. It’s an assumption because we don’t know all of the details above.

Ed Smallwood

And even if they could outbid teams that are in need of catching that will spend more money than the Pirates, what’s the point of that?  Hernandez is 35, Barajas is 36…the odds on either continuing to play at a high level at that age are poor, and even if they do still play well through the duration of what would almost certainly have to be a multi-year deal, they’ll be done before this team is competitive.


“Before lauding cutting Doumit free, shouldn’t one evaluate the internal and external options to take his place?”
Apparently not, from what I’m hearing.


“The team will definitely take an offensive hit from the catcher
position, but a .753 OPS shouldn’t be too difficult to replace somewhere
else on the diamond.”

And the evidence that this FO can do it is . . . . . . . . .  ?


Exactly. It “shouldn’t” be that difficult, but it has been.


The problem is that the Pirates have dug themselves an abnormal hole on the offensive side.  I put their rankings by OPS/position in there for a reason.  They currently suck to high heaven at five positions.  They need to be working to upgrade all five, at least to the vicinity of average.  Not one.  Not two.  All five.  You can afford to have a couple crappy bats in the lineup if you have 2-3 elite hitters.  A Pujols and a Holliday, or a Miguel Cabrera and a Victor Martinez.  But that’s not happening in the foreseeable future, so the Pirates’ only option is to upgrade at every position that sucks.  Except now instead of five, it’s going to be six, and the new one is a position where it’s extremely hard to find offense.  And this is a FO that’s shown no ability to identify even mediocre hitters.  They started with a problem that’s probably already well beyond their capabilities and are now set to lengthen their own odds.


19 years of difficulties….next excuse…


 It’s not an excuse. It’s criticism.


not entirely true that the money couldn’t be better spent elsewhere.  If it goes into long-term deals for McCutcheon and Walker it definitely improves the team down the road, when it will count, if not in 2012. 



While I understand your points, especially on Doumit’s performance when he was healthy and Maholm’s improved ERA from an improved defense, failing to exercise these players options will not downgrade the team in 2012.   These two players are known knowns – from the GM to the fans, we know what to expect.  

Doumit cannot stay healthy.  His risk of injury is extremely high, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see 2012 play out like this year (an earlier season injury exposing issues with organizational catching depth).  Sanchez may improve his prospect status.  It’s likely Snyder will be retained. I would not be surprised to see their catching depth be relied on again in 2012.  Doumit does not help this situation – he only exposes, or aggravates the situation.  Not worth close to $16 M.

Maholm…. what can we say.  His innings have decreased since 2008 (206) through 2011 (162).  While 2011 reversed the three-year negative trends of Maholm’s SO/9, BB/9, and H/9 ratios, it’s a questionable proposition to assume that a small-market team can afford to take a $10M gamble on 30-year-old starting pitcher, while arguably having a mirror image of a player on a multi-year deal in Correia.  The Pirates have prospect pitchers such as Lincoln, Locke, and Owens, that they can promote and begin their major-league development.  

Your statement, “they’ve made it clear that they intend to move quickly backward toward another 100-odd losses in 2012” couldn’t be further from reality.

Bob W

Doumit can’t stay healthy, but Snyder can?? On what planet? Doumit has had 2 major league seasons where he’s played more games than Snyder has at ANY level since 2004.


Thank you Nate for typing exactly what I was planning to say in my response.

It is way, way, way too early to judge that 2012 is a 100 loss season or a backsliding season or whatever.  Let them go thru free agency and the trade market and then judge them in Spring Training.

This article is about 5 too months too early, if needed at all.


Quit drinking the kool aid.

Micah Scheindlin

Doumit and Maholm are two different cases, and by conflating them you’ve thrown a wrench into your argument. I think you’re basically right about Maholm, although I don’t share your pessimistic outlook on some of the other guys in the rotation. I don’t buy that Karstens, for instance “hung by a thread for four months”.  Overall, he had a superb season, and ought to be a part of the rotation we can be comfortable with moving forward. The pitching did regress in August and September, but the team’s collapse was mainly because that offense could only win games when the pitching was first-rate, instead of just decent.

That brings me to the Doumit point, which is where I really disagree with the article. Yes, the Pirates are weaker offensively if they replace Doumit with the organizational options. That’s undoubtedly true unless Tony Sanchez starts hitting and can produce in the bigs. The problem is that OPS doesn’t tell the whole story of who Doumit is, or what the team needs. Although his defense improved this year, Doumit is indisputably one of the worst defensive catchers in the league. Defense is a more important trait for catchers than virtually any other position (maybe SS). The Pirates’ problem isn’t a lack of offensive production at catcher, it’s a lack at the corner infield and outfield spots. Yes, if McKenry gets the bulk of playing time next year, we can expect less offense. But we’re only going to improve overall if we get at least average production at some of the spots where we ranked 15th in OPS last year. There may be a strong case for spending money on Doumit once you’ve looked at the overall market and the defensive stats. It might end up making more sense to play the best defensive catcher possible and spend on hitters who play 1B and RF. But this article hasn’t made a conclusive case either way.


Maholm’s a much easier case than Doumit, for sure, but it’s not just a question of Doumit’s WAR.  A combination of McKenry, Jaramillo and some zero-bat free agent has a good chance of producing a negative WAR.  I’m also highly skeptical of WAR estimates of catcher defense.

I didn’t say Karstens personally hung by a thread, but the rotation as a whole did.  Except for McDonald, they all wore out (Karstens’ ERA after July was 6.56).  And the team’s complete collapse the last two months showed how heavily dependent it was on the rotation pitching to the absolute best of its potential day after day after day.  It also showed how little depth there is, which was part of my point.


Paul Maholm is no worth $9 mill I’ll take my chances with Jeff Locke. Should of traded him at the deadline along with Hanrahan. Thats where his real value was.  I’d take his 9 mill add a few to it and go after a higher end guy whether through FA or trade. Lets not act like this guy was the next Zach Duke oops  mean Tom Gorz… aahhh forget it

Ed Smallwood

Great piece, WTM…knocked it out of the park.  Interesting to see such a pointed and appropriate condemnation of this craptastic ownership group on what is normally a blindly-optimistic site.  Good to see some objectivity here.  Good article.


Well said, Wilbur. This is the same old story, just a different player and a different year. They make it easier and easier to accept the futility each year. Give Bob Nutting credit, he earns his dough. Yet people still show. Gotta loves has-been bands, bobbleheads and fireworks. ‘We Will’….suck again and hit 20 in a row. Sad.


Should be Keystone Kops, other than “keystone cops”.

Other than that, this piece really couldn’t be any more correct. 2012 is shaping up to be a very ugly season, and the sad part is that it’s so unnecessary. These are self-inflicted wounds.


Very good point about Maholm, there is absolutely no reason they should not pick up the option. But Doumit’s I don’t think they should pick it up. Yes he would be worth it but the problem is you almost have to bank on him playing only 60% of the season which means you are paying him a prorated 12.5 million this season and the Pirates just can’t and should not do that.


Nice to see ownerships talk about spending money when the time is right was just that “talk”.  This team won’t spend even if it ever is able to contend again.  You can kiss Cutch goodbye because unless he’s willing to take a stupid contract like Tabata did the team won’t resign him long term because they’ll claim poverty. 

Pirates won’t win until they get an owner who is actually willing to support the team financially.  Also please please don’t give me “Oh the Pirates outspent…by ‘x’ dollars in the draft”.  The Pirates are outspending these teams by 1 or 2 million and they also have had a top 5 draft choice which is going to pad those numbers greatly.  When you look at the big picture and see that a team like the Brewers are able to compete with a 90 million payroll in a market that’s smaller than the Pirates it’s a shame.  So for that I plead with you Bob, sell the team.  Give us Pirate fans some hope, or hire a GM with a crystal ball who actually knows what he’s doing.


This whole situation is rediculous.  We have heard repeatedly that 2012 would be our year.  Now, this line in the sand has been pushed back.  I am beginning to wonder if winning is  (or ever has been) the goal.

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