Maholm Open To Extension With Pirates

Pirates lefty Paul Maholm is 11th in the National League with a 3.12 ERA, and Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thinks an extension is in order.  The southpaw's thoughts:

"I'd definitely talk to them.  I said that in the spring. They control everything. They have the option. They have the ability to trade me. They have the ability to wait and see what happens.  I'm not going to beg for [a new deal], but I'd be open to what they have to say. I enjoy the guys here. I enjoy the staff. The fans are great. I like the city. Why wouldn't I talk to them? I haven't heard anything from them yet and I don't know that I will. I just hope they come to me soon if they are going to do it. I don't want them to come to me the week of the trade deadline and hit me with everything right then."

Maholm is referring to his club option for 2012, which is for $9.75MM with a $750K buyout.  Is Maholm worth a $9MM net price for next year?  A few months ago, the option seemed like an easy choice to decline.

The question is whether Maholm's 89 1/3 innings this year represent a new level of performance.  His strikeout rate is up a bit, but still below 6.0 per nine.  His walk rate is near his usual level at 3.2 per nine.  Groundballs are down a bit.  Maholm might be getting by on the strength of less controllable factors – only 5.9% of his flyballs have left the yard, and his batting average on balls in play is just .243.  Maholm's SIERA is 4.35, after a 4.58 mark last year and a 4.28 performance in '09.  The lefty is good for 30 starts a year, so Cook has a point about his durability, but there's no real indication he's taken his game up a notch.

As our agency database indicates, Maholm is represented by Bo McKinnis.  McKinnis already brokered one extension between Maholm and the Pirates, the January 2009 deal that bought out the pitcher's three arbitration years for $12.25MM.  A new extension would cover only free agent years, and since Maholm is only 29 this month he'd have a case for a three-year deal in the $24MM range.

Maholm would like to get an extension done within the next month or so, if the Pirates are interested.  But should they instead be thinking about trading him at his peak value?  That depends on the front office's philosophy about the importance of getting the .500 monkey off their backs this year.  Finishing above .500 would be a nice talking point in newspapers and for casual fans, but aiming for a goal like that, even after all the losing, could be detrimental to Neal Huntington's long-term plan.  If the Pirates retained Octavio Dotel last year in the name of a .500 run, they wouldn't have James McDonald in their rotation now.  Maybe McDonald won't pan out, but if you collect enough guys like that you'll hit on a few. 

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