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paul maholm cubsTo be clear at the outset here, I’m not entirely sure if Mark Gonzales is reporting that the Cubs are specifically considering/discussing/negotiating/whatevering with free agent starting pitcher Paul Maholm. You can read Gonzales’s piece for yourself and determine whether he’s making that level of a connection, or if he’s simply saying that the Cubs will be considering a lower tier of pitching targets – which includes Maholm – if they miss out on Masahiro Tanaka.

In any event, Gonzales’s report offers a spring board to dig into whether Maholm would actually make sense for the Cubs.

As you no doubt recall, Maholm entered 2012 with the Cubs before being flipped midseason, together with Reed Johnson, in a deal that netted the Cubs Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman. That year, in total, the 29/30-year-old Maholm pitched well enough for a back-end starter: 3.67 ERA and 2.64 K/BB over 189 innings. That was good enough for a 2.2 WAR, plenty for a 5th starter. His groundball rate (51.2%) was very good, his BABIP wasn’t especially fortuitous (.281 versus career mark around .300 at the time), and he succeeded despite an elevated HR/FB rate (12.8%). It was a good year.

In 2013, pitching for the Braves, Maholm’s output regressed: 4.41 ERA, 2.23 K/BB, 153 innings. Thing is, the changes from 2012 were actually very slight: his GB rate was still good (51.3%), his walk rate climbed only slightly (from 6.7% to 7.0%), and his strikeout rate dipped only a little (17.8% to 15.7%). So what happened? Well, his BABIP rose to .310 (so more balls were put in play, and more of them fell for hits), and his already-high HR/FB rate climbed to 13.8%.

Alarmingly, those latter numbers may have been tied to a steep increase in the line drive rate he allowed. With a career mark under 20%, and a rate just a touch over that the previous two years, Maholm’s LD% in 2013 was all the way up at 23.8%.

Is that a sign of a flukey year? Or a sign that Maholm simply lost some effectiveness, and started getting hammered? It’s hard to say for sure without having watched him obsessively over the course of the year, but it’s worth noting that Maholm – never a hard-thrower – has lost a couple MPH off of his fastball over the course of the last few years. In the big leagues, even small changes register quickly on the scoreboard, so maybe there’s a real issue here. Still, the peripherals generally looked fine last year.

One positive weighing in favor of Maholm? He clearly clicked with pitching coach Chris Bosio, given how well Maholm pitched in the first half for the Cubs in 2012.

Strictly speaking, and particularly in light of what projects to be a non-competitive 2014 season for the Cubs, adding Maholm or someone like him just to round out the rotation is not absolutely necessary. As I wrote earlier this month, the Cubs’ rotational depth looks something like this:

Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Villanueva/Chris Rusin. There will be other guys competing for that fifth spot, but Villanueva and Rusin are obviously the top candidates. The one who doesn’t get the job is your de facto sixth starter, and the seventh comes from a group including Brooks Raley, Justin Grimm, Alberto Cabrera, Kyle Hendricks, Brett Marshall, Neil Ramirez, Eric Jokisch, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Dallas Beeler, among others.

There would be no harm in bringing Maholm back on an inexpensive deal, but I don’t know that he’s a dramatic improvement – in terms of win-value to the 2014 Cubs, or in terms of flippable value if he’s given starts – over the value of just letting Villanueva or Rusin take the job, or allowing a youngster to try and win the gig. Of course, adding Maholm gives the Cubs additional cover to shop another starter like Samardzija or Villanueva (who could offer considerable swing value to a contender in 2014), and depth never hurts, so long as you can keep everyone happy and not lose a promising youngster due to a roster crunch.

If not Maholm, the other next-tier options the Cubs have reportedly considered are Scott Baker, who is still looking for the right deal after a couple lost Tommy John seasons (the latter of which was spent making just a few starts for the Cubs), and Jason Hammel, who is probably my preferred free agent back-end option, if the Cubs go this route.

As for the expensive non-Tanaka guys, you can expect the Cubs not to be seriously involved in any of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Ervin Santana. Sure, if one of the latter two has their market utterly collapse and has to settle for a dirt cheap two-year deal, the Cubs might pull the trigger and give up the second round pick for some perceived surplus value. That is highly unlikely to happen, and it’s definitely not going to happen with Garza, so don’t expect it.

  • Jon

    If I could get Jimenez for two years, I wouldn’t even think twice about losing the 2nd round pick.

  • TWC

    “Well, his BABIP rose to .310…”

    I wonder if there’s a BravesFan Paul out there who can proudly (and endlessly) state that he watched ALL of Maholm’s starts, and if can confirm through his unerring visual analysis whether or not Maholm was just a victims of “luck” or not.

    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

      HAHAHAHAHA, made me lol as I’m currently in an argument with him about this (lost cause I’m assuming?)

    • Cubsleeram

      Predicted response:

      “Unerring visual analysis”

      I had doctors transplant hawk eyes into my body. Boy, you must feel foolish.

      “Victims of luck or not”

      Fact: There is no such thing as luck. Fact 2: There’s no such thing as love.

      XOXO BravesfanPaul

  • Kyle

    My expectations have been lowered to the point where this as our biggest offseason move would be a pleasant surprise.

  • Fishin Phil

    I appreciate what he did here the last time he was with the Cubs, unless he comes cheap I say pass.

  • BenW

    We have enough guys to stick in as a 5th starter. We don’t need to pursue Maholm, Arroyo, or Baker. If Hammel is reasonable on a 2 year deal, I’d be interested. Otherwise, save the cash, and throw Grimm/Rusin/etc out there.

  • terencemann

    Just to point out something out: line drive rate doesn’t have a significant year-to-year correlation. If his 2013 LD rate was out of what with his career averages, then there’s a good chance it will be different in 2014.

    This article is w/r/t hitters but it works both ways:
    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2014/1/6/5273460/batted-ball-rates-are-changing-baseball-trends-sabermetrics

  • ruby2626

    Not familiar with the Braves defensive infield. With his high GO rate maybe our superior infield defense would account for some of the elevated BABIP. Anyone know how the Braves infield rates defensively compared to ours?

    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

      Don’t know about the rest of the Braves infield but Andrelton Simmons, their shortstop, is the best shortstop in baseball, and it’s not close

      • terencemann

        They had defenders with poor range at third, second and first but I think Simmons makes up for a lot.

        • Isaac

          Freddie Freeman is by all accounts an outstanding defensive first baseman.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Andrelton Simmons is simply amazing at SS. Both defensive runs saved and UZR basically scream “apotheosis!” when he comes up.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I’m thinking that the if Shark gets moved at the trade deadline then it wouldn’t be bad to have Maholm in the fold. I think that Baker potentially has a little better ceiling, but then Maholm seems to have durability working in his favor combined with him being a lefty. I don’t know what it’s going to take to sign Samardzija at this point. Needless to say if he hasn’t signed n extension by July it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be dealt.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    Brett;
    Is there a a draft pick compensation with these lower tier guys? I just couldn’t see dealing a second round pick for guys of that caliber when we have youngsters looking for some experience. If Maholm or Hamel are just guys that can be signed and possibly flipped I hav no problem with that. Wouldn’t that be something if we signed Maholm and flipped him a second time.

    • Jon

      For the life of me, I can’t understand why we are so protective of 2nd round picks. Especially, given, that one of the market advantages of being terrible, is only having to give up a first round pick.

      • Jon

        *only having to give up a 2nd round pick.

      • terencemann

        You don’t just lose the pick, you also lose the money that goes with the pick. If you signed a player there who went a little under-slot, you can use that money on other picks in the first 10 rounds.

        It’s also a higher pick than it was prior to the new CBA since the new CBA shortened the compensation round a lot so you’re taking talents that would have been picked like 10 picks earlier in other drafts. Plenty of good players have come out of the 2nd round.

        • terencemann

          But this doesn’t apply to Maholm as he was not given a qualifying offer by the Braves ($14 MM).

        • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

          Yup I don’t understand why the CBA just didn’t say “okay lose the draft pick, keep the slot money, the new team will also get an identical slot money for your pick” it’s not like the slot money is fixed it’s just a limit two teams could have the same limit.

          • Kyle

            Because the whole point of the CBA was to drive down the prices of signing draft picks. Adding pool money would be antithetical to that.

        • Jon

          Let’s say you are going to be terrible for a 5 year period…

          If my choices were

          A) Sign 5 tendered players(non albatross contracts) during that time with the benefit of not giving up a first round pick

          B) Keep the 2nd rounder and the pool money each of the 5 years

          I think the odds are that the 5 players you signed contribute more to your major league roster than the whatever the 5 2nd round picks and/or slot money give you.

          • Chad

            I don’t disagree with you, but your first statement about gettting 2 years of Jiminez, why just 2? If you’re going to do it I would rather see 3 or 4 year deal. At least lock the guy up. In my opinion it would make more sense for the cubs to do this next year (assuming protected top draft choice) and sign Scherzer and Bailey or something like that. Give up a second and 3rd pick. I think that would be way better than spending a 2nd round pick on Jiminez. Of course you could do both I suppose, but then your rotation starts to get crowded or your rotation gets too expensive.

      • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

        It’s not so much the pick but the slot money that is attached the the pick that concerns the Cubs and other teams. If we just had to lose the pick but not the money the problem would be solved. It’s the biggest issue with the CBA, picks aren’t the issue losing a chunk of money to sign players is.

        • cms0101

          Completely agree. I keep seeing the commentary go back and forth about whether or not we should care about losing a 2nd round pick, but it’s clear that this front office does. There were certainly opportunities to pursue better players before they signed with other teams this year, and the Cubs never entered into serious discussions with those players. Last year, when they also would have lost just a 2nd round pick, they only talked to Sanchez and Jackson, both not carrying the compensation anvil around their necks. We can analyze the output of 2nd round picks over the last 30 years and call out their lack of production, collectively, but there has clearly been a shift in that line of thinking from front offices to maybe value those picks greater than they were previously. Until they show me otherwise, I do not expect the Cubs to delve into the free agent market of players requiring them to give up the pick and associated pool dollars. If/when they get to .500 and are trying to fill holes on a potential playoff contending team, that’s when they’ll most likely consider this approach. I don’t disagree with that either, no matter how ineffective 2nd round picks have been.

          • Jon

            And at that point, you will be giving up first round picks in the FA game, so my point is you are leaving a real advantage of being bad on the table here…..

      • Isaac

        For the life of me, I don’t understand why you view losing a premium pick so flippantly.

        • Kyle

          Because 2nd-round picks aren’t premium.

        • Jon

          When I think premium pick in the MLB draft, I’m thinking top 10. Certainly not a 2nd rounder, especially when you look at the hit’s and misses of that round over the years.

  • Cubbie in NC

    I just read that Tanaka’s wife is a pop star…. Hello Dodgers Happy wife Happy Life

    http://nypost.com/2014/01/14/meet-the-pretty-pop-star-who-could-steer-tanaka-to-l-a/

    • D-Rock

      Yep, definitely either LA or NY. No doubt about it.

  • BlameHendry

    Don’t want him. The fluke wasn’t 2013, it was 2012. The guy was lucky with the Cubs and never had the stuff to sustain his moderate success.

  • Spoda17

    I would rather see some of the internal guys go out there and just see what they can do. I’d like to see Hendricks, although I don’t think that’s going to happen… but I would do that and not really sign anyone at this point.

    • terencemann

      I agree. I’d rather give the younger players a chance to see what they can do (like Arrieta) or just give them a shot in the rotation (like Hendricks).

      • CubFan Paul

        I think i’m higher than most on Grimm. If we don’t get Tanaka, he’d be my candidate for the 5th spot going into Spring Training.

        Shark
        EJax
        Wood
        Arrieta
        Grimm

        In a development year (and another pre-arb year for Arrieta) what do we have to lose

        • Jon

          98 games?

          • CubFan Paul

            sarcasm

          • Spoda17

            Jon – No chance we are going to the playoffs this year… so why pay millions of dollars for pretty much no reason. But, you’ve been told that plenty on this site, so never mind.

            • blublud

              Because a some point you have to pay millions to be good.

  • willis

    I’d be fine with bringing in Maholm. He’s a solid back end starter and rounds out a rotation, something the cubs do not have right now. Villanueva could be ok in that role but that’s about it right now.

    It isn’t make or break, but it wouldn’t cost that much and would at least solidify the rotation.

  • hansman

    At the end of the year there were some injury concerns. Not sure that I would really go for him.

  • D-Rock

    Who’s next, Matt Garza? Or Scott Feldman? How bout a trade for DeJesus or Soriano? What is this recycling all about?

  • http://BN Sacko

    Maholm cheap is the type we are signing anyway. But we still need a 3 to 4 year guy like Santana, Jimenez.

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