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Huntington: Free-Agent Market Stinks, And Paul Maholm's Option Isn't Expensive, But We Still Won't Pay It

Neal Huntington in Rob Biertempfel's new article on the Paul Maholm situation:

"Does it make sense for us to bring him back for $9.75 million? Probably not," Huntington said. "If Paul ends up getting more money than we're willing to pay, that's great for him."

The Pirates could bring back Maholm with a new contract. However, Maholm's agent, Bo McKinnis, has suspended talks with the club ...

"We'll explore the free-agent market, the trade market and compare it to what we have internally," Huntington said. "This will be a very, very weak free-agent market."

Allow me to translate. Maholm could well get more money in free agency than the Pirates are willing to give him, which essentially means it's pretty likely that the $9 million option is a good deal. And it's a really poor free-agent market, so we aren't going to be able to replace him. But, uh, nonetheless, we don't really feel like paying the $9 million, even though our payroll is at basement levels. 

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Now, it's worth pointing out yet again that the entire offseason is ahead of us, things happen, and it could be that in a few months this whole debate will look really silly, for one reason or another. But the Pirates' reasoning completely baffles me here. Huntington is essentially saying that he knows Maholm's option isn't that expensive and that the Pirates are unlikely to be able to replace him in the free-agent market, and he still won't pick up the option. Maholm fills an obvious position of need, and he fills it pretty well. The Pirates have very few payroll commitments, so they do, or should, have money to spend.

So what gives? It's way too early to accuse the Pirates of punting the 2012 season to save money, but I am now pretty concerned that they're going to do that. And to be clear, I'm not suggesting the Pirates should jack their payroll up to $80 million in 2012 or anything like that, only that they spend a modest amount of money to ensure that their team isn't totally incompetent. The Maholm option would have been an easy way to begin to do that.