Saturday, July 31, 2010

Smizik Incites Masses, Riots Imminent

Bob Smizik is a long-time sports columnist in Pittsburgh. He recently retired and now writes an on-line blog. For the record, I like Bob Smizik. Hold on, don't kill me yet. Bob's a good guy. He's seen a lot. I've interviewed him on the radio and he's a great guest because he's opinionated and articulate. But, Bob seems to get his kicks these days by killing the hometown Pirates every chance he gets. This may be done to incite the masses and get more hits and comments on his blog, and if so, it's working. But I think he's so far off the mark on this one I wanted to respond.

His latest post is titled "Trading Maholm Reeks of Salary Dump."

First, as I write this, Maholm hasn't been traded. He might be soon, but it hasn't happened yet. He obviously wasn't traded when Bob wrote his piece either. The headline is a good start toward inflaming the masses.

In the article Bob quotes Neal Huntington, the last line is, "Again we will need to feel good about the return to make a move." Right. As I have argued, every guy on the team is/should be available if the price is right--from Andrew McCutchen on down. If the trade improves the organization, make it, fans be damned. Now I'm willing to concede there is a PR aspect and entertainment aspect to all of this and trading someone like Cutch would be a colossal PR mistake, but it isn't currently on the table so let's not belabor the point.

Trading Paul Maholm is on the table, so let's review some of the facts. Maholm is in his age 28 season. He's been very durable, pitching at least 175 innings the last four seasons. He has a career record of 44-53 while pitching for very bad teams. His career ERA+ is 97. He's a pitch-to-contact lefty, striking out only 5.5 per 9, while walking 3.2. This year he is making $4.5 million. Next year he will make $5.75 million. In 2012 the club has a $9.75 million option with a $750,000 buyout if not exercised. Those are the facts.

Maholm is exactly the guy you would love to have be your fourth or fifth starter. He can be very good at times and he has been reasonably consistent throughout his career. That is exactly why other teams are interested. If he is a team's fourth starter they probably have a pretty good staff. The Pirates problem is he is their best starter. The issue the Pirates face is that they already have a very weak starting staff. Finding a replacement for Maholm next year at his price will be difficult, but not impossible. For every Brett Myers or Carl Pavano there are 10 Randy Wolfs or Ben Sheets.

Smizik writes, "The statement is curious because Huntington repeatedly has said the team was beyond the prospect accumulation mode." True, NH has said things like this, but that doesn't mean the Pirates wouldn't trade for another ever again. If the team could acquire a top-flight SS prospect for Maholm I'm sure they would do it in a second.

He backpedals a bit, saying:
If that is the case, and since Maholm won't be eligible for free agency until after 2012, a trade sounds more like a salary dump than anything else.
I'm not saying that is the case, and I'd like to hear more from Huntington on this. But if the team is planning on trading Maholm, I would think the $9.75 million he is due in 2012 would be the largest reason.
Okay, Maholm is NOT due, $9.75 million in 2012. He is due $750K if the Pirates decide not to exercise their option. If they do exercise it, it will be because he has pitched very well. If that is the case, the price may look like a bargain and certainly they could look to trade him at the deadline if the team is out of contention.

Where Bob is correct, and the big issue is, what will the worst rotation in the majors look like minus its best pitcher? The right answer, for the rest of this season is, "Who cares?" We are talking about 12 starts on a 57-67 win team. A trade gives the organization an opportunity to further evaluate Daniel McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, Charlie Morton and possibly D.J. Carrasco. (I think Carrasco should get 3-5 starts in September regardless. If he is good, give him a chance to compete for a starting job in spring training. If not, he is a worthwhile bullpen piece at the $1.5 million or so he will make next year.)

The starting staff in 2011 is the team's biggest problem. The cavalry is on the horizon, but State College is a long way from PNC and Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie haven't even inked their contracts yet. Lincoln, Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke will probably all be around and ready by 2012. Donald Veal, Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio should all be back next year and will certainly get a look. But the Pirates will have to do something to augment Ross Ohlendorf and Zach Duke (who I have contended all along is likely to get traded) if he isn't moved or non-tendered.

The Pirates should absolutely move Maholm (and Duke) if it is a good baseball move. If prospects are what comes back, so be it. Just make sure to get the best long-term return possible. Again, we aren't trading Whitely Ford. We are offering a major league-average starting pitcher that has cost certainty and has proven to be durable. Maholm is reasonably cheap next year. That contract adds to his value.
We might see how valuable it is in the next 24 hours.

One thing I feel most certain about, a trade would not be a salary dump. And if we do trade Paul Maholm, maybe he can come back and be our fourth or fifth starter three years from now at age 31. Wouldn't that be great if the Pirates had three or four pitchers who could make an average major league starter be just another guy.

No comments: