Selasa, 14 Juni 2011

Signing Maholm a priority

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 14, 2011

A little less than seven weeks remain before baseball's July 31 trade deadline. Much can happen between now and then. The Pirates could fade into oblivion, especially because they will start a string of 12 consecutive games against American League clubs Friday night in Cleveland. They have been, by far, the worst team in interleague play since it began in 1997, their record 75-124.

But what if the worst doesn't happen? What if the Pirates continue to hover around .500? They are 32-33 after beating the New York Mets, 3-1, Monday night at PNC Park. What if they are 52-53 -- or better -- on July 31? What do they do then with pitcher Paul Maholm?

They have to keep him, don't they?

A lot of us have assumed the Pirates automatically will trade Maholm because of his contract. They have a club option on him for $9.75 million next season with a $750,000 buyout. It's not their way to pay one player nearly $10 million.

But it's getting harder to argue that the Pirates should trade Maholm. He has been outstanding all season despite a 3-7 record. He pitched another jewel Monday night, holding the Mets to three hits in seven shutout innings. He's maturing before our eyes. He turns 29 on June 25. He has also been remarkably durable. He has made more starts (167) than any left-hander in the National League since 2006 and pitched more innings (1,0291/3) than any left-hander but Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (1,036) during that time.

Isn't that the type of pitcher the Pirates need to keep?

Sure, it will cost big money. But haven't owner Bob Nutting, president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington promised to spend when the time is right? Well, I'm thinking the time is right with Maholm.

As long as the Pirates don't collapse in the next six-plus weeks, it's important to keep Maholm for the rest of the season. Getting over .500 might not be a big deal to any other team, but it's critical for them. That record string of futility -- the 18 consecutive seasons of losing before this one -- has been an enormous burden. They need to shrug it off.

But Maholm figures to be able to help the Pirates for many seasons to come. Good left-handed starters are expensive because they're so hard to find. Maholm has been about as good as any this season. His 3.12 ERA is better than any National League left-hander but Hamels (2.58), who's regarded as the best.

It's worth repeating:

Isn't that the type of pitcher the Pirates need to keep?

Instead of thinking about trading Maholm, shouldn't the team be considering tearing up that option year on his contract and trying to work out some sort of multiyear extension?

"I'd definitely talk to them," Maholm said. "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."

Coonelly and Huntington don't discuss contracts publicly, but they have to love what they're getting from Maholm. His teammates certainly do. They know his record would be at least 7-3 instead of 3-7 if they had given him any kind of run support early in the season. They scored a total of 13 runs while he was on the mound in his first 10 starts.

"I think guys know that, no matter what, I'm going to put it all out there," Maholm said. "They know I'm going to battle and expect to win every game. I'm never going to give up.

"It's a comfort factor. It's a confidence factor. I'm going out there now expecting to go deep in games."

Maholm has given up three earned runs or fewer in 11 of his 14 starts. The win Monday night was especially satisfying because it came against the Mets. He wasted a 7-0 lead against them in New York June 2 in a game the Pirates lost, 9-8. It was one of just two bad starts for him this season.

"It's never easy, but I felt good tonight," Maholm said. "When I missed with my pitches, I missed off the plate. The last time against them, when I missed, it was over the plate and they hit it. Tonight was my night."

Maholm's next start will come Saturday night in Cleveland. By then, he's hoping the Pirates' one-game winning streak will be a five-game winning streak.

"We keep hanging around .500, but we're not getting over it," Maholm said. "Everyone keeps getting reminded about it and has to talk about it. If we can win like seven of our next eight games and separate ourselves a little bit from .500, I think you'll see guys relax more. You'll see a lot of 'em really take off."

No matter what, Maholm will take the ball in Cleveland expecting to win. Odds are he will go at least six innings and give the Pirates a chance.

That's worth something, isn't it?

Millions, actually.

Photo: Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

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