Yesterday afternoon, Jen Langosch fielded a question about Paul Maholm's chances of returning to Pittsburgh in her Q&A yesterday. She isn't optimistic:
I'd guess the chances are less than 50-50 for a return, though I am not yet comfortable ruling it out. Maholm said all year that he'd be agreeable to trying to renegotiate a new multi-year deal with the Pirates. But the organization never reciprocated, and now Maholm is soon going to see what his value is on the open market.
The free-agent market for starting pitching this winter is a weak one, which will benefit Maholm. A durable, experienced left-handed starter does have value, and with supply low, Maholm could be presented with an offer that exceeds what the Pirates would be comfortable paying.
That last part is the biggest problem facing the Pirates if they don't extend Maholm's option. There's this perception that he'd be overpaid at $9.75 million for 2012, but in terms of Wins Above Replacement, he's a 2-3 win pitcher and wins are generally worth $4.5-$5 million, which means that $9.75 million per year is likely just about what he'd be getting on the open market. He's got no incentive to re-work his deal for less money to help the Pirates out, because there's a good chance that he'll be able to sign a 4-year/$36 million deal or something like it this winter if he's allowed to become a free agent.
More like a 2 lately, but there could be a dead-cat bounce on another team. Maholm might be worth his option, but just that - anything longer is more than likely to turn out poorly for the team that does sign him. If the Pirates decline Maholm , I wouldn't be surprised if he only found short-term offers worth anywhere between 3-7 mil a season. He is trending down in some categories, and his recent health issues may put a damper on him. My advice, if I was his agent, would be to seek a short term deal on a contender, rebuild value and hit the market again unless a team offered something ludicrous (which might happen).
I'd still say pick up the option, fill the rotation spot and be prepared to move him at the deadline.