Paul Maholm Rumors

Dodgers Sign Paul Maholm

MONDAY: Maholm's contract enables the longtime starter (he has just one career MLB relief appearance) to earn his potential $5MM in incentives whether pitching from the rotation or the pen, MLB.com's Ken Gurnick reports. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has indicated that Maholm may not make the rotation to start the year if Josh Beckett proves ready and able to take the fifth slot. 

The incentive clause sets out an interesting point system. Maholm will earn two points for each game started, 1.5 points for a relief appearance of two or more innings, and one point for an appearance of less than two innings. The full $5MM is earned upon reaching 60 total points. While the complete alignment of points and cash along the rest of the scale remains unreported, Gurnick adds that Maholm's 26-start tally from a year ago (52 points) would land him $3.5MM under his new deal.

SATURDAY: Though they didn't land Masahiro Tanaka, the Dodgers did add some depth to their rotation on Saturday, as they announced the signing of lefty Paul Maholm to a one-year deal. Maholm, a client of agent Bo McKinnis, reportedly receives a $1.5MM base salary and can earn up to $6.5MM via incentives.

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The framework for an agreement appeared to be in place this morning, when Hernandez reported that the starter had a locker prepared and was present in the Dodgers clubhouse, apparently to take a physical. However, confirmation wasn't available until now.

Maholm's eventual contract comes in significantly smaller than the one-year, $7MM deal that he was predicted to receive by MLBTR's Tim Dierkes. While Maholm wasn't in the top tier of this winter's free agent starters, it comes as a surprise that the Dodgers were able to sign him for just a $1.5MM guarantee in an offseason in which Jason Vargas, a fellow 31-year-old lefty, received a four-year, $32MM contract. Vargas has the better track record of durability and has spent most of his career in the AL, so he likely has the edge. However, they've posted strikingly similar results for their careers: Maholm checks in with a lifetime ERA of 4.28, while Vargas' mark is 4.30. Maholm has struck out 5.8 batters per nine innings and walked 2.9 per nine for his career, compared with Vargas' rates of 5.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. In addition, Maholm was good for 153 innings in 2013, while Vargas managed 150 frames.

In effect, the Dodgers have swapped in Maholm for Chris Capuano, with whom they cut ties early this offseason via a $1MM buyout. Capuano is one of the few back-end types still available now that Maholm is off the market. Among top-tier pitchers, of course, both Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez remain on the board.

Maholm figures to give the Dodgers an option for the fifth slot in their rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren. Josh Beckett will also be in the mix for that spot, though he's had health issues for the past two seasons. Chad Billingsley could challenge for that slot as well, but he won't be healthy until the summer as he rehabs from 2013 Tommy John surgery. Maholm is open to the idea of pitching out of the bullpen in the event that Beckett is healthy, manager Don Mattingly told reporters (via Gurnick on Twitter).

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times first reported the signing, and Jim Bowden of ESPN was the first to tweet the $1.5MM base salary. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com was the first to report that the deal contained incentives (via Twitter), and Hernandez added (also on Twitter) that Maholm's salary could top out at $6.5MM.

Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


NL West Notes: Maholm, Arroyo, Delgado

If things went differently, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson could have found himself on the pages of Pro Football Rumors rather than MLBTR.  Gibson was a standout wide receiver at Michigan State in 1977 and in an effort to increase his leverage with the NFL, he returned to the baseball diamond for the first time since high school, writes Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic.  When the Tigers drafted Gibson with the 12th pick in the 1978 draft, they allowed him to finish out his senior season but made him give up on the NFL.  Here's more out of the NL West..

  • Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says that newly-acquired starter Paul Maholm knows he might wind up pitching in relief if Josh Beckett is healthy and named the fifth starter, tweets Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Diamondbacks newcomer Bronson Arroyo might not give Arizona the kind of production they were hoping to get out of a rotation addition this winter, but he should give them plenty of innings, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
  • Randall Delgado is out-of-options, but the Diamondbacks won't let him get away, tweets Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona.  The D'Backs want to keep all of their assets so if he's not in the starting five, they'll slot him in the bullpen.

Dodgers Appear Likely To Sign Paul Maholm

12:23pm: Maholm is likely to sign a minor-league deal with the Dodgers, MLB.com's Ken Gurnick tweets. That Maholm would receive a minor-league deal is somewhat surprising, given his relative youth and history of reasonably strong performances.

10:08am: Judging from events in the Dodgers' clubhouse today, the team appears likely to sign starting pitcher Paul Maholm. Maholm currently has a locker, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times notes (via Twitter). Hernandez also tweets that Maholm is in the clubhouse, apparently to take a physical. The Dodgers were reportedly a candidate to sign Bronson Arroyo, so Arroyo's recent decision to sign with the Diamondbacks may have led the Dodgers to pursue Maholm as an alternative.

Maholm, 31, posted a 4.41 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 153 innings with the Braves last season. He made $6.5MM after the Braves picked up an option on the one-year deal he originally signed with the Cubs prior to the 2012 season. The lefty is one of many starting pitchers remaining on the free-agent market, joining names like Chris Capuano and Suk-Min Yoon in a tier below top options A.J. Burnett, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes projected that Maholm would get a one-year, $7MM deal this offseason.



Free Agent Notes: Angels, Phillies, Yankees

Draft pick compensation is hanging over the market for several prominent, unsigned free agents — namely, Ervin SantanaUbaldo JimenezStephen DrewNelson Cruz, and Kendrys Morales. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports looks at the draft pick situations of some of the clubs that might consider adding one of those names. As we finish a quiet Monday, let's round up some notes on free agent rumors from around the league:

  • The Angels do not seem to be operating with much urgency to add a free agent pitcher, tweets Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. If the club does add to its rotation with an open-market contract, says DiGiovanna, it is more likely to go after Jason Hammel or Chris Capuano than Bronson Arroyo or Paul Maholm.
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that the club does not have any outstanding offers for guaranteed MLB deals, tweets Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. As MLBTR's 2014 Free Agent Tracker shows, Philadelphia has not entered such a pact since inking Roberto Hernandez on December 18.
  • After committing a cool half-billion dollars through free agency (if you count Masahiro Tanaka and his release fee), the Yankees appear to be done adding significant salaries for the offseason, reports Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. New York seems to be following through on GM Brian Cashman's statements that the club would not pursue Drew, says Martino, and the team is not currently trying to work out a deal to bring Chase Headley over from the Padres.

Cubs Looking At Starters, Will Not Re-Sign Scott Baker

After losing out on Masahiro Tanaka, the Cubs remain interested in adding rotation depth, likely in the form of a relatively minor signing, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. Chicago will not be in the market for one of the top remaining free agent starter, such as former Cubbie Matt Garza, unless a golden opportunity arises.

Neither is the club interested in bringing back Scott Baker, Rogers adds. According to Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter), the Mariners and Indians are more likely landing spots for the 32-year-old righty. The Cubs signed Baker to a one-year, $5.5MM deal last year, but Baker was only able to make three starts after a long Tommy John rehab.

Chicago has been linked to other mid-tier starting options, Rogers notes, including Paul Maholm and Jason Hammel. Both pitchers would seem to fit the mold of the club's rotation signings from last year, which included Baker, Scott Feldman (one year, $6MM), and Carlos Villanueva (two years, $10MM). Internal candidates for the club's final rotation spot, according to Rogers, include Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, and Chris Rusin


Rangers Looking At Lefties To Replace Holland

The Rangers are in discussions with several free agent pitchers who would step in for the injured Derek Holland, reports Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Among the pitchers contacted by Texas are Paul Maholm, who revealed the discussions himself recently on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM, and recent Royals swingman Bruce Chen.

With Holland reportedly out until at least the All-Star break, the Rangers will need to account for some innings, whether they do so from within or make an addition. Both Maholm and Chen have generally been reliable inning-eaters over their careers, so the interest makes sense in that regard.

The 31-year-old Maholm should come at a relatively reasonable price after enduring some injury issues and a down season in 2013. After respective 3.66 and 3.67 ERA campaigns, Maholm ended up with a 4.41 ERA last year. He also posted his lowest inings total (153) since becoming a full-time big leaguer, though his strikeout ratio (6.2 K/9 vs. 2.8 BB/9) was in line with his career averages and he actually posted his second-best xFIP (3.89). Maholm landed at the 43rd slot on MLBTR's Tim Dierkes's list of the top fifty free agents.

Chen, 36, was effective last year for Kansas City in a mixed role (15 starts, 19 relief appearances). He ended up with a 3.27 ERA in 121 innings, though his FIP (4.12) and xFIP (4.93) indicate reason to view that tally with a grain of salt. Indeed, Chen's 2013 BABIP-against (.255) and strand rate (78.8% LOB) fell below and above league average, respectively.


Twins Working Hard To Add One More Starter

12:30pm: In addition to Arroyo, Pelfrey and Matt Garza, the Twins are monitoring left-hander Paul Maholm, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter).

10:33am: The Twins are "working hard" to add one more starting pitcher to the club after signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Bronson Arroyo and Mike Pelfrey are definitely among the names the Twins are pursuing. Earlier this morning, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweeted that while some teams and agents are packing up and heading home, Twins GM Terry Ryan isn't leaving Orlando yet. Said Ryan, "I'm open for business."

Minnesota has also been linked to Matt Garza recently, though it's unclear how serious their interest is, as the Angels and Diamondbacks are said to be the favorites in that race. The Twins know his asking price, however, and they know Garza himself better than many of his suitors. Minnesota drafted Garza in the first round of the 2005 draft but traded him in 2007.


East Notes: Orioles, Gaudin, Cano, Phillies, Mets

Here are a few quick notes from around the East divisions:

  • The Orioles have not had discussions with Scott Boras about contract extensions for either Matt Wieters or Chris Davis, CSNBaltimore.com's Rich Dubroff tweets.
  • The Orioles are interested in finding another starting pitcher, and they've shown interest in free agent Chad Gaudin, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (via Twitter).
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman understands Robinson Cano's decision to leave the Bombers for the Mariners, writes Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger.  "It just comes down to, if the numbers are right, he had 240 million reasons why he should go to Seattle," Cashman says. "And if I was him, I would have done the same thing."
  • The Phillies are "more focused on trying to add starting pitching depth more than anything else," GM Ruben Amaro told reporters, including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, yesterday.
  • The Mets talked to Paul Maholm's agent, but they are not expected to sign the veteran lefty, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets.

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Free Agent Faceoff: Scott Feldman vs. Paul Maholm

For tonight's Free Agent Faceoff entry, we'll take a look at Scott Feldman and Paul Maholm. As two soft-tossers with below-average strikeout rates, they're likely to draw interest from NL clubs who're looking for an extra piece to fill out a rotation.

The Cubs likely targeted Feldman last winter as a pitcher whose strikeout and walk rates were on the upswing in recent years despite inconsistent results. In 2012, he struck out nearly seven batters per nine innings and walked just 2.3 per nine while being shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen. SIERA suggested his ERA should have been somewhere in the range of 3.95, but he ended the season with a mark of 5.09. Dropped into the Cubs' rotation in 2013, Feldman rewarded the team with 91 quality innings before being flipped to Baltimore in July, and he remained relatively effective in the AL East despite seeing his strikeouts tick down and his walk rate rise. It added up to a 181 2/3-inning, 3.86 ERA campaign for Feldman that likely ranks as his best major league season thus far. While his strikeout rate remained below average for a starter, Feldman continued to avoid excessive walks this season, and also saw his groundball rate shoot up to 49.6 percent, easily the highest rate of his career among years in which he's worked mostly out of the rotation.

Maholm also doesn't rely on the strikeout, but he's much more ground-ball oriented than Feldman. Only once has his ground ball rate fallen below 50 percent in a season, and he's averaged 52.1 percent for his career. Those grounders are his meat and potatoes, as he's averaging just a 6.4 per nine strikeout rate over the last two seasons and a solid, but not excellent, walk rate of 2.6 per nine. He also relies heavily on neutralizing lefties, who've managed just a .220/.287/.318 line against him for his career, while righties have fared much better at .286/.353/.447. That's generally been a recipe for success for Maholm, whose ERA climbed to 4.41 in 2013 but was 3.66 over the 2011 to 2012 seasons. His 2013 innings total, 153, was his lowest since his first full season in 2006, with a wrist sprain and elbow inflammation causing him to miss time. However, he's generally been a durable pitcher, as he's never failed to complete 150 innings in a season and has reached the 180-inning plateau three times in the last five years.

In Feldman and Maholm, we have two pitchers who have achieved some success despite living below the 90 MPH mark with their fastballs. Feldman will turn 31 in February, and averaged 89.9 MPH with his heater last season. Maholm will turn 32 during the 2014 season and is a bit behind Feldman on fastball velocity, averaging 87.5 MPH in 2013, but he's also been much more effective at generating ground balls over his career. Who would you rather have?


Free Agent Profile: Paul Maholm

April seems like ages ago.  Braves lefty Paul Maholm was unscored upon in his first three starts that month to kick off the season, at which point I noted that a 3.90 ERA moving forward would put him at 3.50 overall, and position him for a three-year deal even after declining a qualifying offer.  Maholm, however, posted a 5.16 ERA over his next 22 starts, suppressing optimism for his first big free agent payday.

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Strengths/Pros

At times, Maholm has shown the ability to rack up around 190 innings with an ERA under 4.00.  That has real value, and aside from handedness, Maholm's profile isn't drastically different from that of Scott Feldman.  And if certain teams are focused on southpaw starters this winter, Maholm is right near the top of the free agent list.  

One of Maholm's greatest attributes is his ability to generate groundballs.  His 51.8% groundball rate this year ranks sixth among free agent starters with at least 100 innings.  On a related note, the lefty has been respectable at keeping the ball in the yard, with a 0.81 HR/9 since 2008 and nothing higher than this year's 0.99 in that span.

Maholm has been very good against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .219/.287/.317 line in his career.  His peripherals against them are sparkling: 8.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.51 HR/9, and a 3.21 xFIP.

A qualifying offer from the Braves is not expected, so Maholm should not come with draft pick compensation attached.

Weaknesses/Cons

Maholm is a pitch-to-contact type, with a career strikeout rate of 5.7 per nine innings.  He's allowed ten hits or more per nine innings in numerous seasons, including this one.  SIERA suggests an ERA in the low to mid-4.00s is a reasonable expectation.  Perhaps due to the vagaries of batting average on balls in play, Maholm has three seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and two with an ERA over 5.00, out of eight total.  Putting a good defense behind him is key.

Upside is limited with Maholm.  If all goes well, you'll get 190 innings with an ERA a touch under 4.00, but there is some downside on the other end.  Maholm's ERA is up to 4.44 at the moment, but perhaps some of his July struggles can be attributed to trying to pitch through a seemingly minor injury.

Can Maholm be considered an innings guy?  He'll finish with around 152 this year, and had an abbreviated contract year in 2011 as well with 162 1/3.  Other times, Maholm has reached the 180-200 range expected of a starter signed to eat innings, including 189 in 2012.  This year, a left wrist injury suffered on a swing cost him a month, and he also missed one start in September with elbow soreness.  The elbow MRI showed no structural damage, but agent Bo McKinnis will still have to explain that to interested parties this winter.  Back in '11, Maholm's season ended on August 17th due to a shoulder strain, limiting free agent interest.  This year's injuries have been more minor, plus Maholm has the opportunity to finish the regular season on a healthy note on Wednesday against the Brewers.

Personal

Maholm lives with his wife Jessica and son Wyatt in Hattiesburg, Mississippi during the offseason, according to the Braves media guide, and he grew up a Braves fan.  Paul was in the prestigious PGA Golf Management Program at Mississippi State University, the only major that requires a certain golf handicap.

Market

Perhaps Maholm will first explore the idea of remaining with the Braves, who also have Tim Hudson eligible for free agency.  The Braves have the pitchers to fill out a young rotation without either veteran, but with uncertainty around Brandon Beachy's elbow, it would be wise to sign at least one veteran hurler.  Given Hudson's tenure with the Braves, it seems likely they would address his situation first.  The two contracts Maholm has signed have been with Midwest teams, the Pirates and Cubs,  so perhaps he'll turn to the NL Central again if the Braves don't work out.

Expected Contract

After the 2011 season, I considered Maholm the ninth-best free agent starter, and expected him to land a multiyear deal despite his season ending early due to a shoulder strain.  His first free agent experience lasted until January 10th, however, and he received just a one-year, $4.75MM guarantee from the Cubs, with a club option.  A club option is never ideal for the player, and the Braves picked up Maholm's for 2013 after he finished one of his finest seasons.  Even though the 2011 shoulder injury didn't linger for Maholm beyond that season, finishing on the DL really hurts a pitcher's market, and he won't have to deal with that this time.  

While I once thought Maholm was a good bet for three guaranteed years, that seems unlikely now.  As I've mentioned before, the bar for a two-year contract for a starting pitcher is pretty low, with recent examples like Brandon McCarthy, Joe Blanton, Carlos Villanueva, and Kevin Correia.  MLBTR's Steve Adams has pointed out the importance of timing, as the two-year offers tend to dry up come January.  Last offseason, Joe Saunders, Shaun Marcum, and Brett Myers were left standing without a multiyear chair, as Maholm was two winters ago.  Though the top end of the free agent market for starters is weak this offseason, there are plenty of hurlers in Maholm's class, such as Feldman, Jason Vargas, Roberto Hernandez, Phil Hughes, Chris Capuano, Jason Hammel, and Saunders.

While Maholm could reach as high as two years and $14MM, ultimately I think the southpaw will sign a one-year, $7MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.