Paul Maholm Rumors
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Braves lefty Paul Maholm is off to an amazing start this season. He's begun the season with 20 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 20 and walking five. The 30-year-old has nice timing -- he's eligible for free agency after the season.
Maholm was a free agent once before, when the Pirates chose a $750K buyout over his $9.75MM club option after the 2011 season. He was good that year, but his season ended in August due to a shoulder strain. Not only did the Cubs get him on a one-year deal, but they were also able to tack on a club option. That improved Maholm's trade value, and the Braves gave up a notable arm in Arodys Vizcaino to acquire him last July. Maholm finished strong with Atlanta, improving his strikeout rate over his final 11 starts. His $6.5MM club option was an easy decision to exercise last October.
Assuming the Braves do not extend Maholm during the season, they'll be faced with the question of whether to make a qualifying offer. The qualifying offer process had its first run last offseason, and the Braves were one of seven teams to make one (to Michael Bourn). That worked out well, and I think there's a good chance they'll make one to Maholm - even if the qualifying offer comes in near my projection of $14MM. Maholm does not generally feel worthy of a one-year offer in the $14MM range, though Hiroki Kuroda did better than that last winter. And while I don't know that Maholm's nice start in 2013 should change our perception of him, if he pitches at a 3.90 ERA from this point forward, his season ERA should come in below 3.50. Plus, if some of the increased strikeout rate sticks, Maholm can shake the stigma of being a pitch-to-contact guy.
So if Maholm enters free agency at age 31, coming off a sub-3.50 ERA campaign, he'll be expecting a multiyear deal this time. That means he should turn down the qualifying offer. Kyle Lohse is the cautionary tale: he was coming off 399 1/3 innings of 3.11 ball over two seasons, and faced a slow market due in part to being attached to a draft pick. But as many have pointed out, Lohse also entered the market with the standard Boras-inflated price tag, and teams shied away for that reason too. Maholm and agent Bo McKinnis might consider Lohse's three-year, $33MM contract to be close to fair value.
Lohse's contract was the fourth-largest signed by a pitcher last offseason, and the biggest for one who received a qualifying offer. Maholm will enter free agency as a 31-year-old, while Lohse was 34. A fourth guaranteed year could prove elusive for Maholm if he turns down a qualifying offer. Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez were able to get it, but both pitchers were under 30 and did not require forfeiture of a draft pick. Perhaps Maholm could at least top Lohse's $11MM average annual value.
The "best free agent starter" label goes a long way, however. Just ask C.J. Wilson, a good, 31-year-old pitcher who received a five-year, $77.5MM deal after the 2011 season, with draft pick compensation attached. There is a lot of baseball left to be played -- most of it, actually -- but if Maholm keeps rolling while Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Tim Lincecum remain inconsistent, the Braves lefty is a dark horse candidate for the title of best free agent starter.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
2:03pm: The Braves announced they've exercised the options for McCann, Hudson and Maholm.
10:46am: The Braves are expected to announce today that they've exercised the 2013 contract options for Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (on Twitter). The Braves have until tomorrow to decide whether the players will return to Atlanta for another year or become free agents.
McCann recently underwent shoulder surgery that was more extensive than expected, so there was some question as to whether GM Frank Wren would exercise the $12MM option. The 28-year-old hit 20 home runs and posted a .230/.300/.399 batting line in 2012, the worst offensive season of his career.
Hudson will earn $9MM in 2013 instead of a $1MM buyout. He posted a 3.62 ERA with 5.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 179 innings with the Braves in 2012. Joining him in the rotation will be Maholm, who posted a 3.67 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 189 innings this past season. The 30-year-old left-hander will earn $6.5MM.
31-year-old innings eater Joe Blanton has about $3MM left on his contract, and the Orioles are his most interested suitor. The latest:
- The Phillies are coming off the $3MM demands, tweets Connolly, and Blanton to the Orioles is picking up steam again.
- The Orioles would have to take on $3MM to acquire Blanton, and they aren't comfortable with that amount, so they're considering other options, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports (all Twitter links). The Mariners want a lot in return for Jason Vargas, Connolly writes. Joe Saunders and Bud Norris are alternatives, but it's not clear whether they're fits for Baltimore. The Orioles don't want to give up much in a trade for starting pitching, Connolly writes.
- The Orioles tried to get Paul Maholm from the Cubs, Ghiroli reports. She confirms the team's interest in Saunders and Vargas. The Orioles are looking on the relief market as well, Ghiroli reports.
- The Orioles are turning their attention back toward other starters, tweets MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli.
- The Orioles were sent medicals on Blanton as well as two Phillies minor leaguers, tweets Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com.
- Money continues to be a stumbling block on a Blanton deal, tweets MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. The chances of the deal dying have increased since yesterday.
The Cubs have traded left-hander Paul Maholm, outfielder Reed Johnson and cash considerations to the Braves in a four-player trade that provides Atlanta with reinforcements for the season's final two months and bolsters Chicago's minor league system. The Cubs obtain right-handers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino in the trade, which the teams have announced.
Maholm has a 3.74 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 49.9% ground ball rate in 120 1/3 innings for the Cubs this year. The 30-year-old has never thrown particularly hard; his average fastball checks in at 87.6 mph this year, according to FanGraphs. He earns a $4.75MM salary in 2012 and his contract includes a $6.5MM club option for 2013. The Royals and Pirates appeared to have interest in Maholm earlier this month.
Johnson, 35, has a .307/.361/.452 batting line in 180 plate appearances this year. The right-handed hitter has played all three outfield positions for the Cubs and owns a career .313/.370/.469 line against left-handed pitching. He's signed to a one-year, $1.15MM contract and will hit free agency after the season. Four teams made offers for Johnson today, including the Pirates and Tigers, according to Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com.
Vizcaino, who entered the 2012 season ranked by Baseball America as the 40th-best prospect in MLB, had Tommy John surgery this spring. The 21-year-old posted a 3.06 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 97 innings for three Braves affiliates as he made his way through Atlanta's minor league system in 2011. The right-hander reached the Major Leagues last year, posting a 4.67 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 in 17 relief appearances.
Chapman, a 25-year-old right-hander, has a 3.52 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9 in 53 2/3 innings of relief for Atlanta's Triple-A team so far in 2012. The Braves selected him in the 16th round of the 2005 draft.
Maholm joins a Braves rotation that includes Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Ben Sheets and, as of tomorrow, Kris Medlen. The Braves nearly traded for Ryan Dempster this month, but the sides don't appear to have obtained the right-hander's permission.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com first reported that Johnson had been traded (on Twitter). Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports first reported Maholm's role in the trade and first reported that the Braves were the other team involved (Twitter link). ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick first reported that the Cubs were getting two minor league pitchers, including Chapman. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Cubs were getting Vizcaino. Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
On this date three years ago left-hander Mark Buehrle pitched a perfect game against the Rays with an impressive effort punctuated by the most memorable catch of Dewayne Wise's career. Here are today's links...
- Colby Lewis is expected to miss the rest of the season for the Rangers with a torn flexor tendon in his right arm, according to Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. It seems logical that this will accelerate the Rangers' desire to add a starting pitcher. They've been linked to names such as Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, and have very enticing trade chips thanks to their deep minor league system.
- Cubs lefty Paul Maholm told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it'd be "ironic" for the Pirates to want him back at the deadline after letting him walk as a free agent (Sulia link). Maholm's next two starts are scheduled to come against his former teammates.
- The Padres’ asking price for Chase Headley remains high, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports (on Twitter). The Pirates have discussed the third baseman with the Padres, according to Olney. The A's are interested, but remain reluctant to part with top prospects, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter).
- Evan Longoria’s reign as the most valuable trade chip in baseball has ended, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs writes. Longoria still figures prominently on Cameron’s list of baseball's top assets, as expected.
- Agent Bobby Barad has joined Excel Sports Management, Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal reports. Barad, formerly of TWC Sports Management, represents players such as Lance Lynn and Jerry Blevins. Check MLBTR’s Agency Database for updated data on which agents represent which players.
- The Nationals don't intend to trade top prospects for a starting pitcher, ESPN.com's Buster Olney tweets.
- The Tigers intend to trade for a difference-making starting pitcher, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter links). The Rays appear to be telling teams James Shields isn't available yet, Knobler adds.
- It’s possible that Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke will both remain with their current teams at the trade deadline, and if they stay put demand will increase for the next tier of available starters, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. The trade value of pitchers such as Shields and Matt Garza would increase and teams undecided about their midseason plans -- the Marlins and Rays, for example -- could decide to take advantage of the market and sell.
- One rival executive said he’s “very” concerned about Greinke given his recent poor performances and potential fatigue issues. Another executive told Rosenthal that Greinke is a scary potential trade target.
- The Orioles are among the teams that have shown interest in Bartolo Colon, Rosenthal reports.
- The Tigers are still interested in acquiring a starting pitcher, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links). However, they aren’t serious players in the market for Greinke.
- In today's Insider-only blog post, ESPN's Buster Olney explained that players can improve their trade value by performing well in the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Paul Maholm of the Cubs is one example, and clubs have already shown an interest in him. - Mike Axisa
The Royals and Pirates have interest in Cubs left-hander Paul Maholm, sources tell Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago. Maholm, 30, threw eight innings of one-run ball in a start against the Marlins today and now has a 4.09 ERA and a 2.38 K/BB ratio in 19 games (18 of them starts) for the Cubs this season.
Maholm has about $1.97MM still owed to him in 2012 under the one-year deal he signed in January. The contract also contains a $6.5MM option for 2013 which could be a key factor for the Royals, who are known to be looking for veteran pitchers who are controllable past 2012.
The Pirates have mostly been linked to big bats on the rumor mill, though they also have several big-name pitchers "on their radar" as they look to improve the team in any way possible in search of the NL Central title, or at least their first winning season since 1992. Maholm is not an ace but he is a known commodity in Pittsburgh, pitching his first seven seasons with the Bucs. Maholm could be had for a cheaper price than other Cubs pitchers like Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster, so the Pirates could save their top prospects as trade bait for a top hitter.
- Left-hander Paul Maholm told Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio that he wanted to sign with an NL Central team. The Pirates expressed some interest in the left-hander, but the Cubs ultimately signed him.
- Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio that he wanted to sign Maholm because of his youth, sinker and competitiveness.
- Hoyer says the Cubs are happy to have obtained some starting pitching depth and downplayed the idea that Matt Garza will be dealt now that Maholm's aboard. "Because we have six starters doesn't mean we're going to pare down to five by any means," he said.
- Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips told told Stern and Bowden he was happy to see the Reds pick his option up earlier in the offseason. He says he’s now focused on the upcoming season and doesn’t sound optimistic that an extension will be finalized any time soon. Phillips expressed his desire for an extension earlier in the offseason, explaining that he’s not going to give the Reds a hometown discount. "There’s no homeboy hookup. That ain’t going to work," Phillips said.