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Paul Maholm, Or Chris Capuano? A Bird In The Hand Isn't Bad

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 05:  Chris Capuano #38 of the New York Mets pitches during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 5, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 05: Chris Capuano #38 of the New York Mets pitches during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 5, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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it's been a quiet week, and there isn't much news. I went to a concert last night and didn't see the game, tragically, so I'm still riding the same old hobbyhorse. I've been thinking about a piece Tim wrote a few days ago about the Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit situations. The gist of it is that there will be better deals for players like Chris Capuano and Rod Barajas on the free agent market, so Pirates fans shouldn't be concerned about the Pirates not picking up Maholm's or Doumit's options. 

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.

I wasn't in favor of picking up the Doumit option (although the idea of the Pirates sticking with Michael McKenry and the random assortment of fellow backups and AAA guys behind him scares me, and I'm not certain of the Pirates' chances of actually signing Barajas or Ramon Hernandez), so let's just concentrate on the Maholm option. The problem with the decision between picking up the option or turning to Capuano on the free agent market is that it's a false choice, for two reasons. 

First, the Pirates could have picked up the Maholm option and signed someone like Capuano. That would have given their rotation a level of stability it currently lacks. The fact that you might be able to get a better deal on Capuano shouldn't necessarily matter unless you're unwilling to spend on more than one player or if there will be lots of legitimate bargains on the free agent market who are good bets to outperform Maholm. The only one Tim names is Capuano, and in fact, he lists Capuano as his first choice, Maholm as his second, and Erik Bedard as his third.

Now, I like Capuano, but with his extremely dicey injury history (he's had two Tommy John surgeries and missed the better part of three years), I think it really is arguable whether giving Capuano a two-year, $10-12 million deal (as Tim suggests) really is better than a one-year, $9 million deal for a reliable (and apparently-healthy) pitcher like Maholm. And that's just one guy.

Now, to be clear, there will always be players on the free agent market who will turn out to be bargains - guys whose values are depressed because they aren't healthy or had a bad season who will nonetheless come back next year and pitch well. The problem is that we don't know who those guys are right now. One Fanshot recently pointed out that, for example, the Pirates could have gotten Ryan Vogelsong last offseason for just a few hundred thousand bucks. Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean it would have been a great plan for the Pirates to sign someone like Vogelsong last year and pencil him into their rotation. Someone like Maholm, who reliably eats innings, is a much better bet right now. A bird in the hand isn't anything to sneeze at. (It would probably fly away.)

Similarly - and this is reason no. 2 why I think Tim is setting up a false choice - the decision isn't between Maholm at $9 million (and by the way, the decision on Maholm boils down to $9 million, not $9.75 million, since the Pirates will have to pay the $750,000 buyout whether he plays for them or not) and Capuano at two years and $10-12 million. It's between Maholm at $9 million and, uh, we're not really sure what the other options are.

What made the Maholm option attractive was that the Pirates wouldn't have to enter the free agent market at all, and wouldn't have to subject themselves to a market where players have the choice not to play for them. Capuano might indeed sign for one year and $6 million, say. But if he does, he won't necessarily do that for the Pirates. He might not want to play for the Pirates, for any of the millions of reasons other players don't want to play for the Pirates either. If we knew Capuano would be willing to play for the Pirates for one year and $7 million, or two years and $11 million, that would be one thing. But we don't.

In fact, let's say Neal Huntington were to hold a press conference this afternoon. On the day of Game 7 of the World Series! What a jerk. He has no idea how to handle the press. Anyway, at this press conference, Huntington will announce that Capuano is their top free agent target. Luke Ravenstahl will surprisingly step out from behind a curtain carrying the key to the city, which he will promise to Capuano if he signs with the Pirates. Capuano will have beautiful women feeding him grapes while he rests on his own La-Z-Boy in the clubhouse. The only stipulation is that he has to sign for less than Maholm. 

Would he sign? I don't know. I'm not sure I'd put that at better than even money. And the Pirates can't even offer the key to the city. 

If you think all the focus on Chris Capuano is particular is a little weird, I respectfully submit that you are wrong.Here's the list of free agents, and here's a good review at FanGraphs. There are some interesting players, but there aren't going to be a ton of great deals on players in the Pirates' price range, and if there are, the Pirates aren't likely to be the ones getting them, for all the reasons that have been mentioned at Bucs Dugout approximately a billion times. I could see them signing someone like Jeff Francis or Bruce Chen. I'd rather have Maholm. 

The possibility that some of these Maholm-alternatives, like Capuano, get multiple years makes it all the more clear that Maholm's option would have been a good idea. Multi-year contracts for starting pitchers are usually a bad bet, and the fact that Maholm's option only covered one year is a crucial one.

Is there a chance the Pirates could get a better deal than the one they could have had with Maholm? Sure. But I don't think the probability of that is all that high, and with Kevin Correia and the injured Charlie Morton among the four pitchers currently penciled into the Pirates' rotation, there wouldn't be any conflict in adding someone like Capuano or Francis in addition to Maholm. 

Given that the Pirates aren't going to pick up the option, I think advocating for Capuano is perfectly realistic and sensible. But that doesn't mean the Pirates will be able to sign him, or that they couldn't have used both Maholm and Capuano.