24.7 F
Friday, December 2, 2022

Why Aren’t the Pirates Keeping Paul Maholm?

It seems that every year there is a big story in the off-season that always leads to the same result.  The Pittsburgh Pirates make a move, the move is unfavorable to the fan base, and the immediate reaction is to speculate on what this means for the remainder of the off-season.  Usually the thought is “the Pirates will do nothing, and will go in to the following season with what they have”.  In the past, history has shown us that this immediate reaction has been wrong.

We saw this reaction in 2009 when the Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps.  Following the move there was outcry, and despite the Pirates saying they would reallocate the funds, there was speculation that the team wouldn’t add anyone to the bullpen.  The Pirates ended up signing Octavio Dotel to be their closer, and eventually flipped him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo.

At the time, I was in the camp that felt they gave up on Capps too soon.  I felt that Capps was a prime candidate to bounce back.  Letting him go was a mistake.  They off-set that mistake by signing Dotel.  I felt they should have spent the money, had Capps turn his numbers around, all so they could get some trade value.  Instead they took the money they would have given Capps, gave it to Dotel, and got the same result.  Side note for those asking “why not both”: Dotel only signed with the Pirates because he was given the closer’s role.  He doesn’t sign with Capps on board, making $4 M.

In 2010 we saw this reaction on a matter that wasn’t player related.  In late September, the Pirates fired Altoona Curve manager Matt Walbeck.  The move followed a season where Altoona won the Eastern League championship series.  The outcry focused on the obvious: they fired a manager who just won a championship.  The situation was bigger than normal because the Pirates still had John Russell as their manager (the MLB regular season was still going on).

Because Russell was still the manager, we saw about a week of speculation in the form of “they fired Matt Walbeck, so they must be keeping John Russell for another year”.  Of course, Russell was fired after the 2010 season, and the Pirates eventually hired Clint Hurdle.  Meanwhile, Walbeck dropped down to manage the low-A Rome Braves, and was let go mid-season.


Maholm won't have his option picked up by the Pirates.

Today Rob Biertempfel of the Trib reported that Paul Maholm’s 2012 option wouldn’t be picked up by the Pirates.  That of course led to some immediate reactions on all Pirates sites.  Maholm is coming off a year where he posted a 3.66 ERA.  His 4.03 xFIP shows that those numbers might have been a bit lucky, but that he’s a solid pitcher.  His strikeout, walk, and home run numbers all improved from 2010 to 2011.  He missed time with an injury, but that shouldn’t affect him in 2012.

The immediate reaction is a mixture of “why aren’t they keeping Paul Maholm” and the usual “they won’t do anything to replace him”.  To the latter part, all I can do is point to the history of these situations to say that it’s probably too early to make those statements.  We’re about two months away from free agency really heating up.  We don’t know who will hit the market, and we don’t know who the Pirates will target.  So we’ll save that for another day (and that day will probably be Monday, when I look at the possible free agent starting pitchers).

We know that the Pirates aren’t keeping Maholm.  We don’t know yet whether they will replace him, or how they will replace him.  The remaining question is: why?  Why aren’t the Pirates keeping Paul Maholm?

My preference during the season, which I mentioned all throughout the month of July, was to trade Maholm in a big seller’s market.  That sounds reasonable now, but when the Pirates were technically contenders, mentioning the idea of flipping Maholm for prospects got the reaction you would see if you tried to take food away from a person who hadn’t eaten for 19 years.  The idea of selling Maholm at his highest value was meant to improve the team for the long term (and we don’t know that the Pirates didn’t try).  That’s not to say that I want Maholm gone under any circumstance.

Maholm has a $9.75 M option in 2011.  I’ve mentioned many times that this option is fair with the production that we saw out of him in 2011.  Maholm was a 2.6 WAR pitcher in 2011.  The price for a win on the free agent market last year was around $5 M in most cases.  So Maholm’s 2.6 WAR would be worth $13 M on the open market.

This situation is similar to the Matt Capps situation.  The Pirates are potentially letting a guy go with no compensation, rather than keeping him around for one more year.  That’s fine if they plan on using the money on another similar option.  You could see why the Pirates took that approach with Capps.  He was coming off a down year, and the performance of relievers can be hard to predict.  He was set to go to arbitration, a process which heavily favors saves.

That situation doesn’t apply for Maholm.  He’s coming off a great year, arguably the second best year of his career.  His price is a fixed cost: $9.75 M.  He’s also been somewhat consistent.  Sure, the ERA has been all over the place, but his xFIP, which is a better indicator of future results, has seen the following numbers since 2008:

2008: 3.94

2009: 4.18

2010: 4.41

2011: 4.03

Outside of 2010, he looks like a 4.00-4.20 ERA pitcher.  Last year I looked at the average rotations across the league.  The average number three starter had a 4.15 ERA.  The average number two starter in a bad rotation had a 3.91 ERA.  Maholm ranks as an average number three starter, or a number two starter in a bottom 15 rotation.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier in the year, Maholm is a perfect match for PNC Park.  He’s left handed, which obviously favors PNC Park, as it shuts down the advantage that left handed batters have.  The advantage Maholm has is that he’s one of the best ground ball left handers in the Majors, with a career 52.3% ground ball rate.  In his career, Maholm has only once posted an ERA north of 4.14 at home, and only twice has he been above a 3.59 ERA at home.  That’s a big advantage when you consider he pitches about 100 innings a year at PNC Park.

There are some concerns with Maholm.  His innings have dropped consistently every year since 2008, going from 206.1 to 162.1.  His ground ball rate has also seen a similar decline, going from 53.6% in 2008 to 49.9% in 2011, a number that is still well above average.  Overall these concerns don’t really hide the fact that Maholm is a good pitcher.

Maholm wasn’t a weakness for the Pirates in 2011.  In fact, he was the opposite.  He was part of the reason the team was so successful in the first half, and his performance was consistent until August, at which point he struggled, then went down with a minor shoulder injury.  We don’t know how the Pirates will replace him, or if they will replace him.  We do know that, in order for this move to make sense, the Pirates will need to replace Maholm with someone that is equal to, or better than Maholm.

I would actually be surprised if Maholm receives $9.75 M a year on the open market.  I think he’s more likely to get a multi-year deal that pays less per year.  My guess is that, if the Pirates want to land a replacement, they’re going to have to do something similar, paying $7-8 M a year on a multi-year deal for a pitcher that is similar to Maholm.  So why not keep Maholm and avoid the hassle?  Yes, it will cost about $2 M extra, but that $2 M is basically insurance that you enter the 2012 season with a guy of Maholm’s talent level.

It seems like the Pirates are taking a gamble here.  They’re letting a pitcher walk after he’s coming off a strong season.  The move will probably make sense once we see what their approach is in the off-season.  However, even if their approach is to find a replacement, the move is still a gamble, as they already had a guy under team control.

There’s also the possibility that we’re getting ahead of ourselves here in dismissing Maholm.  All we know is that they won’t pick up the option for $9.75 M.  We don’t know whether they will try and negotiate with him on the open market.  I’ve seen a lot of people suggest “give him a three year deal”.  If you’re Maholm, why would you take a three year deal without at least testing the open market?  Testing the open market doesn’t prevent Maholm from re-signing with the Pirates.

Again, this is a picture that will probably clear up in a few weeks, you know, when the off-season actually begins.  We’ll probably get a better understanding of this move, and the Pirates’ focus on the off-season.  At that point, we’ll be in a better position to either say “this makes sense” or “they should have just kept Maholm”.  For now, we can only wait for that clarity, because the idea of letting one of your best pitchers walk for no compensation makes little sense based on the information we’ve got.

+ posts

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

Related articles

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The facts are that the Pirates were in first place at the latest point in recent memory and the team was almost obligated to make some sort of move to bolster a penant run. I was all for trading off Maholm, hanarahan, etc but doing so not only sends abad message to some maybe less knowledgable/more angry fans, but to the remaining players as well. This team can never catch a break, just good enough  to not sell deadline time when guys are at highest value, getting the 2nd pick when the 1st is babe ruth, having the 1st when the consensus 1 becomes the 6th pick.

$ is always gonna be an issue and it should be. The Yankees are stuck with 6 more years of a way below value A Rod at almost $30 mill per. The Pirates can not and should not even waste 1/3 of the $ on 1 year of an avg to below avg player at this point in the process. Maholm may be worth 9 on the market but not to this team. Next year is not the world series season and if you look around at the playoff teams he’d be hard pressed to make any of the rotations as more than a 5th starter.

Get a bag of balls for him and save the $9. Move on and think bigger. Trade for a guy thats 2 years younger gooing to his 2nd arb year and pay him that $.

Sorry had a few pops and cant take all this whining over below average major league players. These are not championship players. Turn on the TV its not even close. McCutchen is he only real deal star after that we have to wait for Pedro then Cole, Taillion, Bell, Heredia. Maybe Marte. Best you got doesnt mean theyre good enough to keep.


If they let go of Maholm and Doumit, and sign Pujols…. then I am OK> Otherwise it is just a money saving move. And a stupid one at that. Look at how Washington handled Capps vs, Pittsburgh.


I don’t think Pujols can be the standard, otherwise we can just write it off as a failure now because they aren’t going to sign Pujols.

I agree that not getting anything for Maholm (assuming he isn’t traded in the interim) is repeat of earlier mistakes, mistakes a franchise like the Pirates cannot afford to make.  There may be a planning but the Pirates planning and execution still leave a lot to be desired.


Bottom line, this is all about the bottom line.  Maholm is going to get 9 mil next year.  The only question was whether we get him for what amounts to market price for one year, or does he go somewhere else and get at least that money for 3-4 years.  The Bucs have already decided they arent going to pay market price for average or better FAs.  They never have.  Their MO is bargain basement dumpster dives.  Suggesting otherwise is silly.

I wouldnt care much about Maholm if we had a decent starter prospect to replace him.  But we dont.  In fact, Locke is the only thing close, and he isnt very close.  With Morton out, maybe for the year, that just makes the lack of depth worse.  I know we wont contend next year, but do we really have to rid ourselves of everyone making over a million dollars?

Of course, I could just use the retarded Dotel/Capps analogy and say its OK to make a terrible evaluation error and lose a young, talented player because you might get lucky and sign an old crappy vet who can be flipped for a decent prospect.  But of course, as anyone who follows the Bucs knows, Dotel was one out of twenty sign a vet and flip him for prospects that actually worked. 

Besides, in what universe is it OK to say making an obvious cost saving/talent costing move acceptable as long as later on you make a good move that “makes up for it”?  Considering this organization has little starting pitching of value above A ball, I would think we would be looking to add, not subtract, a guy that could at least be major league average.


I agree it would have been difficult.  Really, I was simply pointing out that players on the DL can be traded and that nothing prohibits it.

As far as what they could have received for Doumit, its true, the return would have been minimal.  That return, however, would be more than the nothing they will get if they decline his option.

As I said, from a value perspective, I don’t either player should be here under the current contract.  The fault that I find with the front office, is that they are getting nothing and repeating a previous mistake (the Capps situation).  Repeating past mistakes is not a sign of an organization that is learning.


I’m not sure they can offer arbitration after declining the option.  But, if they can, I don’t mind the moves as much, as long as each player returns a compensation pick.  Now, if they fail to offer arbitration, then my position hasn’t changed.


They won’t get compensation for Maholm as he’s not rated. Another reason that 9.75 mill seems very unreasonable. I doubt Doumit is rated either with the amount of time he’s missed.

Ron Leighton

we’ll see if there is a plan. Right now it only looks like Maholm and Doumit cost too much so we don’t need them.

Unless they are replaced with players that are better the Bucs are going to decline in 2012 instead of building upon the good will and excitement that was created in 2011.  Right now they are telling fans to stay away.  Will any moves they make this winter tell fans the team is trying to win in 2012 and will be worth going to ballpark to see?


At this point, I have one real issue with letting Maholm and Doumit go.  Its the fact that they didn’t trade either earlier and get something for them.  That’s the failure in these moves, just as it was with Capps.  To be honest, its a huge failure.

The new Moneyball team is the Rays.  They rarely let players go at a complete loss, as the Pirates did with Capps and Maholm and probably will do with Doumit.  What did they have this year in the way of compensation picks?  Wasn’t it 11 or something close to that?  

Its about value for the player.  I don’t think Maholm or Doumit (because both option years have to be exercised) are value at their upcoming salaries.  It made sense to let them go.

Even though it made sense to let them go, it shouldn’t have come this far.  The Pirates had to know, or had a good idea, back in July that they probably weren’t bringing either player back.  If they didn’t, that is a failure of a different kind.  Because its likely that they knew neither player would be back, both players should been dealt.

Again, there is no PR or pseudo pennant race excuse either.  This was never a contending team.  The last third of the season proved that.  Rather than letting them go for nothing, they should have been traded.  Again, failure to get something for them, is a front office failure.


Players on the DL can be traded.  It involves risk on the part of both teams, but there is nothing in the rules of baseball that prohibit it.


IMO, I don’t think they did just let him go, I think they tried to negotiate with him, from what Huntington said, they never said they did not want him, just that they were not going to give him 9+.
It is not uncommon these days for teams to try to redo these types of contracts. It is possible that they offered him 6 or 7 mil a year for 2 years, we don’t know what they talked about.

Here is a question for the site:

Not paying Doumit and Maholm saves about 25 mil. With 25mil, do you think they could do better than Doumit and Maholm? With that kind of money I know I could! IMO, they could replace their kind of production for around 12mil and I am sure if they could get both of them for 12mil they would pay up, the player still has to agree in the end. That kind of money buys a Fielder type, would any of you trade Maholm and Doumit for Fielder?


I agree, they probably won’t go for someone like him, I was just pointing out that they could go after Fielder kind of talent.


A better idea is to apply any savings to getting McCutchen signed past his first or second free agent year.  Signing any one or two year player is a bad idea.

They can re-sign Maholm but I don’t see him coming back here.  If he’s healthy, someone will make him a better offer than the Pirates will.

Ron Leighton

How many other players similar to Maholm are going to be let go by their teams this year?

Quick answer – ZERO.  The Bucs are letting a player go who has value for nothing.  All for the sake of saving three or 4 million dollars. 

The savings is not really $9 million because the Bucs would have picked up the option if it was for only 5 or 6 million a year. 

It is very unlikely that they will use this money to improve the team because on a team that was already full of holes they have created another one.  How many Brian Burres starts are there going to be next year?

I thought there was a plan, but it I don’t think there is.  They just want to be able to put a team on the field for not more than $50 million or so and not get embarrassed.  Then when a miracle happens and the team gels into a contender (maybe by 2030) they can say the “plan” worked.

The Truth

I’d rather have Wilson Ramos than either of McDonald or Lambo.      But even if that was not the case, it is still incredibly poor management to continue to allow homegrown productive players (in an organization that isn’t exactly stockpiling them) to leave without getting any return for them whatsoever.     The Capps situation was slightly different in that he was at a point of lowest value, but that season looked like an obvious outlier at the time when viewed in the context of his track record.     It would not have been a particularly risky move to tender him arbitration and hope that he returned to form in order to deal him when his value returned.   

In Maholm’s case, I wanted to deal he (and Hanrahan as well) this season at a point of high value, knowing full well that this team was competing on smoke and mirrors.      Failing to deal Maholm at the proper time, the prudent course for the Pirates would be to either pick up Maholm’s option and try to deal him this season, hoping that he gets off to a good start in 2012, or to posture as if they are going to do so and try to deal him at the Winter Meetings, but not completely destroy their bargaining position.      Instead, they do neither and will more than likely lose him for nothing.       Just another example of chronic mismanagement.


I agree with you that they should have dealt Maholm and Hanrahan when the market was good.  It was a substantial mistake not to trade them.

I’ve read several boards before posting here.  The consensus, at least among those who generally support the front office, was that the Pirates could not trade anyone because of the perception of the fans.  These people believed the appearance would have been that the front office was pulling the rug out from under the fans, if they had traded either or both of those pitchers.

This excuse is just an excuse for several reasons.  First, anyone who followed the team closely could see that the Pirates were not legitimate contenders.  They had no offense and didn’t utilize the little team speed they had.  Secondly, much of the staff, Morton, Karstens, and Corriea were either pitching over their heads, or having a career year.  Finally, all the odd moves that Hurdle was making had a limited lifespan of success.

The front office staff, particularly Neal and Frank should have made the tough and unpopular call to deal Maholm and Hanrahan in July.  They likely knew that they would not exercise Maholm’s option then too which, should have made their call easier.  Playing to the fans or making decisions based on PR is the wrong course of action, especially for a team in the Pirates’ position.  They are paid, and paid well, to make tough decisions.  They failed in Maholm’s case by making the tough decision at the wrong time.  

The Truth

“We don’t know whether they shopped either player, or what kind of offer they received, so it’s impossible to grade them on what did or didn’t happen.”

That’s such a lazy excuse – the market for relievers was obviously very high as demonstrated by the trades for guys like Adams and Ziegler.     Using that type of thinking, you can never make any determinations about missed opportunities by GMs, which are extremely important when viewed in the context of “selling high” and “buying low”, a key for any management team and especially one with a much smaller margin for error.      I made the same argument for Evan Meek the prior season before his value went plummeting.    

I also don’t care about PR factors and the response of the casual fan when it comes to making baseball related decisions and a GM should care even less about those types of things.     Pirates fans have been kicked in the groin repeatedly for nineteen years by incompetent management and an ownership failing to commit adequate resources to the organization, and yet at the first sign of a moderately competitive team, the park was filled to capacity most nights.       They need to worry much more about making proper baseball decisions and understanding the concept of value as it relates to their own players and potential targets, and much less about appeasing the fanbase or worrying about PR issues.

The Truth

I’d much rather use what more proactive GMs in relatively similarly situated positions were able to accomplish with similar trading pieces.     In this particularly case, it led me to believe that quality relievers were being somewhat overvalued in the marketplace, which led to some excellent returns for pieces that were very comparable to what the Pirates could have offered in Joel Hanrahan.       I don’t really care whether they actually shopped him or what was actually offered if they did – I get tired of dealing with the constant excuse making from those defending the current management.     Most employees are forced to deal with the tangible results of their work product, and the results of this regime have been poor by virtually every tangible measure possible to date.   

Even if the farm system is finally lauded this off-season beyond its usual mediocre to below average organizational ranking, is that really particularly impressive when virtually every single highly rated  prospect in it was acquired a result of drafting in a position based upon the woeful performance of the major league club?    I’d expect a little more tangible evidence of progress at this point in the process no matter how poorly situated DL left the system after his reign of terror.


“take advantage of the market and build a better team for the future”.

haven’t we been doing this for 20 years now?  Maybe that is why people would get upset, it’s a never ending cycle of trading best players.  If we actually got a quality return people wouldn’t have been that upset, people get upset when we trade players and get nothing in return b/c our scouts are worst in MLB.  


Why Aren’t the Pirates Keeping Paul Maholm?

Because they are retarded and apparently enjoy losing.  If we weren’t going to extend him then why didn’t we trade him for a hitter at the deadline?  This is yet another huge mistake by our pathetic FO, Maholm would have had 15 wins if he actually had any run support.


Maybe Maholm was hurt at the deadline and they did not tell anyone, they did not tell anyone about Morton, the Pens don’t tell anyone about what their injuries are. If they knew he was not right, surely if another team picked him up, they would have found out.
Calling someone retarded without knowing the facts is a little off base IMO.


19 straight losing seasons is off base.   Better chalk up #20 and being the worst franchise in all of the major sports. 


This is such a tough call. I’ve argued time and time again that the Pirates need to stop paying for average or below average players. I trashed Maholm for years as being a below average pitcher. Now he goes and has a slightly better than average season. I adore him now. Still, my life partner and I continue to debate the merits of keeping Maholm for one more season. He believes that Maholm’s money should go towards an extra $10M on McCutchen’s contract.


The Capps comparison is a good one.  It shows that in both cases, the Pirates did the right thing at the wrong time.  In both cases, the Pirates should have traded the player earlier.

I wasn’t against letting Capps go at that time.  Nor am I against, letting Maholm go now.  I was against selling low for both.  That statement isn’t even correct.  I was against giving both away for nothing.

The Tampa Bay model, roughly based on the financial concept of arbitrage, sells one mis-priced asset at a high value, while buying another at a low value.  In both cases (Capps and Maholm), the Pirates sold at a low value by getting nothing for either.  They will compound the problem if they buy a short term player, like a veteran starting pitcher or catcher, at a high value.

The Pirates did the right thing in letting Maholm go.  They just did it at the wrong time.

Share article

Latest articles


Latest comments