Lobbying For the Wrong Move to Be Made

A week from today, Maholm will most likely be a free agent.

The Texas Rangers took a 3-2 lead in the World Series last night, and could potentially win it all on Wednesday.  If they lose, that means the series will be decided on Thursday.  For the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the other 27 teams that are waiting for the off-season to begin, this means that we will start to see the first off-season moves being made no later than a week from today.

We know about the moves that the Pirates plan to make.  They hold options on Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit, and Paul Maholm, and they plan on buying out those options, making all three players free agents.  The moves have been discussed constantly over the last week.  There are some people who want the Pirates to keep Doumit and let Maholm walk.  There are some people who want Maholm, but don’t want Doumit.  Some people want both, and some people want neither. It’s not uncommon for every viewpoint to be covered.  There are a lot of Pirates fans, and thus, there are a lot of different opinions.  I’m never surprised by the various opinions of others.  That said, I have been surprised by the justification of some of these opinions in the last week.

You could make an argument that $9.75 M for one year is too much for Paul Maholm.  Personally I feel Maholm is worth that amount, although the price is more on the high side, to the point where Maholm needs to repeat his 2011 season in order to make the deal worthwhile.  You can definitely make the argument that Ryan Doumit’s option – two years and $15.5 M guaranteed – is too much for an injury prone catcher with poor defense.  You could also point to guys on the free agent market that would cost less than Maholm at $9.75 M or Doumit at $15.5 M for two years.  I reviewed some options in the last week, looking at some of the available catchers, and some of the available starting pitchers.

This is the point where the arguments in favor of Maholm and Doumit take a turn.  On the catching market, there are two guys who are clearly better all around players than Doumit: Rod Barajas and Ramon Hernandez.  Both have better defense, and are more reliable injury-wise.  In reviewing the starting pitchers, my preference would be Chris Capuano, then Paul Maholm on a multi-year deal, followed by a flier that Erik Bedard could stay healthy, and in a last ditch effort: Jeff Francis.  In each case, you’re looking at options that are cheaper than the $9.75 M for Maholm.  I’d have Edwin Jackson topping this list if I thought he was a realistic option for the Pirates.

The opinion that I’ve seen floated around is that the Pirates won’t sign a free agent, and that their only chance to avoid a disaster of a 2012 season is to over-pay and keep Maholm and Doumit.  The view on free agency is either that the Pirates won’t be able to sign a player (no one will come here, Pirates won’t offer enough, etc), or that the Pirates won’t sign a player that is better than Maholm or Doumit.

A lot of this is based on a small sample size.  Prior to last off-season, the Pirates hadn’t really approached free agency looking for a starting pitcher or a starting position player.  They’ve mostly looked for bench and bullpen help.  The bullpen help has been successful, and the bench players haven’t worked out, as the Pirates have gone for guys that are on the downside of their career.  Last year the Pirates took their first look in to the free agent market to fill bigger needs.  They added Lyle Overbay to start at first base, added Matt Diaz to platoon in right field with Garrett Jones, and added Kevin Correia to the rotation.

You could argue that the track record the Pirates have isn’t great.  But you’re really just basing an argument on a single year.  In fact, it reminds me of these recent arguments:

-The Pirates won’t sign Luis Heredia. Look at what happened with Miguel Sano.

-The Pirates will take a “signability” pick in the first round in 2010, just like they did with Tony Sanchez.

Just like those two cases, people are forming their predictions around a sample size of one year.  But this isn’t really about whether the Pirates will or won’t sign a free agent.  It’s about justifying the options for Maholm and Doumit by saying that this is the only hope for the Pirates to get their production.

It would cost $9.75 M for Maholm’s option.  It would cost much less for a guy like Chris Capuano, and it would cost less per year to sign Maholm to a multi-year deal.  It would cost $15.5 M for two years to pick up Doumit’s option.  It would cost much less if the Pirates offered arbitration and Doumit accepted.  It would also cost much less if they signed Ramon Hernandez or Rod Barajas.  In each case, the argument is “but the Pirates won’t sign those players”.

This is what baffles me. The Pirates aren’t picking up the options of Maholm and Doumit, and you could argue that this is the right call. In each case there are better, and cheaper, options available on the free agent market.  For those that believe the Pirates won’t sign a comparable free agent, the view is basically that the Pirates won’t pick up the options (which is fact) and that the Pirates won’t sign a comparable player (which is speculation).  What I don’t understand is why, if you’re faced with two situations where you believe the Pirates won’t make a move, would you lobby for a move that is arguably worse?  It seems to me that there are two choices: lobby for the options, or lobby for a free agent.  Lobbying for the option seems like a total waste of time, since the Pirates have said they won’t make the move, and since it’s clear that there are similar, if not better alternatives on the market.

The argument that the Pirates won’t sign a free agent is mixed.  There’s the small sample size argument that says the Pirates won’t make a move because they haven’t done so before (pointing to last off-season as proof).  There’s also the argument that no player will sign in Pittsburgh.  That second argument has limitations.  I can see that argument for a guy like Edwin Jackson.  I can’t see that argument for a guy like Rod Barajas.  I also can’t see that argument for a guy like Chris Capuano.

Barajas signed for $3.25 M last year as a free agent.  Only one catcher received more than $4 M a year last year, and that was John Buck, who was coming off a season with numbers far greater than we saw out of Barajas.  I don’t expect Barajas to receive more than $4 M a year on the open market, and he probably won’t see more than the $3.25 M he saw last year.  Even if the Pirates had to over-pay and go $5 M a year for two years, that’s a much better alternative than $15.5 M for two years of Doumit.  You save $5 M, which is important when you’re operating under a small budget, and you get a catcher with better defense, and who is much more reliable, injury-wise.

Then there’s Chris Capuano.  It’s hard to get a read on his salary, as he has signed smaller deals the last few years due to injuries.  He returned in 2011 with 186 innings pitched, which means he should be in line for more than the $1.5 M plus incentives that he received last year.  However, I don’t think he gets anything close to the $9.75 M option price that Maholm saw.  I think it would be more likely that he sees something in the $5 M range, and I think that the Pirates could over-pay and still get him cheaper than Maholm’s option.  Considering that Capuano has a better xFIP than Maholm, and better strikeout and walk ratios over the last three years, I’d much rather over-pay for him, rather than settling for the $9.75 M option from Maholm.

If I’m going to lobby for something, I’m lobbying for the free agents.  I don’t think it would cost the Pirates more than two years and $8 M for Barajas.  I also think that Capuano could be had on a two year deal for $10-12 M total, or a one year deal for $6-7 M.  In each case, you’ve got upgrades over Maholm and Doumit, and at a cheaper price.  The team lost 90 games last year.  Over-paying to keep that team together seems foolish, especially if over-paying limits the ability to add to the team.  If you can get the same, or better, production at a cheaper price, that’s the move to make.  The Pirates could spend $25 M on Maholm and Doumit, or they could spend much less on Barajas and Capuano, and have money to upgrade another position.  If you feel the Pirates won’t make either move, yet you feel the need to lobby for one of them, then why not lobby for the move that makes more sense to the small market franchise: getting the same or better production for a cheaper price?

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

    Capuano is not an upgrade over Maholm.  I feel like the reason a lot of people want to keep these guys is the idea of home grown talent actually paying off.  Many fans feel like they are once again giving up and to be perfectly honest, they won’t sign any of the players you mention in this article, they will go even cheaper and it is quite possible the new players won’t be upgrades at all, simply cheaper.  

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      1. Why is Capuano not an upgrade? Better xFIP, better strikeout and walk numbers.

      2. The second comment is pretty much in line with my small sample size comments. It’s the same type of analysis that said they won’t sign Heredia and they would go with a signability pick in 2010. It’s speculation, based on limited examples.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      capuano, if healthy, is definately an upgrade.  he proved that this season with some of his best numbers of his career.  hes around the same age as Maholm too. 
      maholm pitched some of his best baseball this past season.  it was refreshing to see him actually “pitching” for a change.
      a guy on another blog asked this question:  “if maholm were with the Twins and became a free agent, would you want NH signing him to a 8 figure/1 year deal?”
      ummmmm, no.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KEYHS3XWH74U3LRIHGWL7XPBA Nate

      That “homegrown talent”, in the form of Maholm and Doumit, has had years to pay off.  It hasn’t. Maholm’s been in a three year decline, with a slight increase this year.  Doumit… who doesn’t love the potential for his bat, but he can’t stay healthy and is troubling inconsistent when he is.

  • Anonymous

    Why leave the trade route out? I think they can do just as well if not better going the trade route, they have talent to trade, something Huntington did not have when he started. Having said this, I am not opposed to getting a Barajas or Hernandez, also picking up a Capuano type, they need those types of players, but they also need impact players and these free agents are not impact players, IMO they will have to trade to get one or two.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I’m not against the trade route. I just think it’s easier to project free agents. You know who is a pending free agent, and you only have to focus on the expected cost. With trades you have to focus on the return, which can get messy when you try and figure out what the Pirates would trade, and how other teams value those players. You also don’t really know who is available, and who is going after them. I’m not against the trade route, but I don’t really like posting about it, except for situations like the trade deadline, where the Pirates make it clear that they want to upgrade a position, and there are plenty of names being shopped.

  • Anonymous

    Another thought, are there not teams that also will be letting players go because they do not want to pick up the options on those players? maybe we could be talking about considerably more talent that is available than we are talking about now. Anyone know of any players from other teams that might get released that have not been announced yet?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      MLBTR has been reviewing every team, with non-tender candidates and guys who might have their options declined.

    • Anonymous

      A guy to keep track of is Fausto Carmona.  MLBTR has inferenced that he is a non-tender candidate and he could be a decent guy to bring here.  He has 3 club options from 2012-2014, so the Indians may non-tender him.

      His current club option ’12 salary would be $7M if the Indians kept him.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        That’s a case where I’d rather see Maholm picked up. Carmona’s expected performance is about the same as Maholm. I’d rather pay the extra $2 M and go with Maholm, rather than paying prospects to go with Carmona. If he only required a minor return, maybe. If there was any sort of top prospect involved, even guys in the top 15-20, I’d opt for Maholm.

  • Anonymous

    i can not see why we would want to pick up the contracts of two very mediocre players. one who is very injury prone and the other had shoulder problems at the end of last year. they are not worth near the money that would be owed. not even the yankees would renew those contracts. do not forget that a lot of players optiones will not be picked up, so when you hear that the free agent market is weak, that does not include those whose options are not picked up.  some fans may keep saying the pirates are cheap, but picking up those contracts would make them stupid also.  even though the pirates don’t  through money around, and some may call that cheap, they have to be careful with a limited budget and can’t afford any big mistakes.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with this post and I might add that sometimes the Pirate fans worry too much about a player playing well after we let them go, calling it a mistake or an I told you so. Good organizations don’t worry about the players when they are gone, mlb is loaded with players that are playing very well for teams after they were let go. I wonder how many fans in Milwaukee are saying I told you so when they look at how well Cruz is doing in Texas, wouldn’t Cruz look good playing with Braun and Fielder!

  • Anonymous

    I know all this talk  is fun and people enjoy  speculating and PP needs to write about something but for me I’m going to wait and see what goes down then I’ll give my opinion but to start criticizing before the Pirates have even done anything is really dumb.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Not a bad approach.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BZYN5QSGMBWVFATK7A2P65JUGQ judy

      Well, the Pirates have done something.  They declined the player options for Maholm and Doumit.  They have been criticized for doing so.  The timing(not the merits) of the criticism makes sense considering they no longer have the option oof retaining Maholm and Doumit at those fixed costs.  We will see if this is a smart or foolish move, however it is the appropriate time to question the wiseness of the decision.

      • Anonymous

        It ain’t exactly Halliday and Posey walking out the door.

      • Anonymous

        Not really. It’s still just entire speculation. The critics of the moves think we can’t do better, the proponents think we can. Questioning, sure, criticizing, premature.

  • Anonymous

    Im with tim, take your shot at FA instead of keeping high priced mediocre, recently injured, homegrown underachievers.  I think a move to the NL could be beneficial for Fausto as well, Im sure Neal has some connection with him coming up through Indians system. With Mortons injury the only solid rotation candidate is J MAc. Karstens can become a Josh fogg like HR machine Correia is Correia and Lincoln is far from settled in. So 2 FA SP shouldnt be out of the question. Winter meetings should be a good time.

    I also wonder if the Bucs can get some handshake deals done with Doumit and Snyder regarding arbitration. If they could sign a Barajas/Capuano and get 2 1st rd picks and either get Lee or a pick that would be a great offseason for Neal

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ron-Leighton/1000137680 Ron Leighton

      isn’t Fausto’s the definition  of high priced uner achiever (only with Indians).

      I guess that is my main worry that that Maholm and Doumit will be gone, be replaced by players similar or even poorer and that those will be only significant changes made in team.  I can see replacing Maholm and Doumit but there will need to be other additions too.  I could see going for Wilson Betemit as fall back at third and first but would still have him as more of bench player rather than a big upgrade (what was expected out of Diaz in 2011).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D6JUW22SWG2UBINOPU6SHCRBNU chad

    i’d like to see capuano here instead of maholm.  i think that’s a slight win.  more HR allowed, but more Ks.  and cheaper.  i’m mixed on doumit vs. barajas.  a two year deal for a 36 y/o catcher who himself rarely plays more than 100 games a season.  you can’t plan on increasing his load.  so i’d rather get 90 from doumit than maybe 110 from barajas.  i think that doumit, more or less in his prime, should offset his terrible defense with solid offense when compared to barajas, at his age.   if you can’t work out a one year deal with doumit, fine.  i’m not jumping at 15 for two.  but i’d hate to see more than a one year deal with barajas.

  • Anonymous

    just another quick possibly drunkin thought
    A GM for the Bucs can’t assume every year is a playoff year. So when sigining any player whether by FA or retaining an option midseason trade trade value should be considerd. Taking on Doumits   option(S) or maholms reduces their value to the team, unless they never get hurt and play at the highest level they have.
    30 year olds dont get better they get older

  • Anonymous

    How many times have the Pirates taken a shot at a free agent?  A few.  Last year, we had to big ones, in Pirates teams.  One was an abject failure, Overbay.  The other waited a while to fail abjectly, Correia.

    The answer is, do not look for free agent major leaguers. The Pirates lack of success with them is the first reason.  The second reason is that the Pirates have had more success in trading for younger pitchers like McDonald, Morton and Karstens.  The third reason is that the Pirates will over pay to get them to come to Pittsburgh.  The fourth reason is that the team will over pay to avoid a last place finish.  A pitcher like Capuano or even Carmona isn’t going to improve this team enough to make it a contender.  So, we would be signing a player to avoid last place.  That’s inefficient spending.

    Finally, signing any of these kin of guys fails to take advantage of what the Pirates have internally.  Again, this is a fifth/sixth place team with a free agent pitcher, so why not see what Lincoln, Locke or Owens can do.

    If the Pirates are looking for pitching, the first need to establish an age limit.  They should not be looking for anyone 30 or older.  This kind of pitcher is going to want a multi-year deal or be well over paid for one year.  Regardless, he will be paid to do nothing more than help the team achieve mediocrity.  Look at the Rays for the model.  

    This means Capuano is out.  While Carmona is young and may be a solution, I wouldn’t touch him either.  If he’s non-tendered, he’s a one year stop gap. If he pitches well, he’s gone to FA. If he pitches poorly, we don’t want him.  

    If the Pirates must get a pitcher, look at teams that have pitching that is blocked.  There isn’t much there, but there is something and its better than over spending for mediocrity.

    PS…I’m in the camp that the Pirates should let Doumit, Snyder and Maholm go.  None are worth what they would make.

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