It didn’t take long for spring training news to happen, did it? After being tied to Bronson Arroyo (who signed with Arizona on Fridy) for so long, the Dodgers have apparently and quickly signed a consolation prize. Paul Maholm reportedly has a locker in Camelback Ranch. He is apparently taking his physical now. While we don’t yet know the financial details, it’s probably a major league contract for one year, potentially with an option. The money is probably fine, but the need is somewhat questionable. (UPDATE: The money is, in fact, fine. 1.5 million guaranteed with “significant incentives” according to Ken Gurnick. Dylan Hernandez reports that incentives could bring the total value of the deal to 6.5 million.)
Where does Maholm fit on the Dodgers? The top four starters in the rotation are set in stone: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, Dan Haren. The fifth spot, which we have examined a few times, is up for grabs. The Dodgers went into spring training last year with eight pitchers capable of starting. After adding Maholm, they’ll have 10 this year. The adage of “you can never have too much pitching” is true, but Maholm doesn’t really represent much of an upgrade. Then again, the Dodgers aren’t bringing him in to throw 200-plus innings, so this is a relatively low-risk signing.
This signing might have one immediate impact: Josh Beckett‘s time in a Dodger uniform is probably over. The Dodgers apparently aren’t confident in Beckett’s health and/or pitching ability enough to let him compete for the No. 5 job. His $15.75 million price tag alone suggests he’d win the job, but the fact the Dodgers don’t need a fifth starter much in April could have something to do with it.
More likely, the Dodgers will, somehow, cut ties with Beckett before the season starts. They could trade him, though there probably isn’t much of a market. They might stash him on the disabled list (if possible) like they did with Ted Lilly last season. Most likely, they’ll designate him for assignment. Either way, it’s hard to see him throwing a pitch for the Dodgers in 2014.
As a result, the last spot in the rotation is probably Maholm’s to lose. It’s highly unlikely a guy like Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Zach Lee or Ross Stripling would pitch well enough in spring training to win the spot over Maholm. It’s not like they won’t pitch well, but they’d have to nearly perfect to beat out a crafty, veteran lefty with a major league contract (probably). On the bright side, it gives all four of them (well, three, as Fife isn’t going to get any better) a little more time to hone their skills in the minors.
Maholm isn’t a power pitcher by any means. His career average fastball velocity is 88.6 MPH, but he hasn’t averaged above that since 2009. He has a “classic’ starters’ repertoire, adding a slider, curveball and changeup to his fastball. His slider is his best off-speed pitch, with a value of 24.1 runs above average over the course of his career, according to Fangraphs. His curveball is the only other above average pitch, with a +0.7 run rating. His changeup and fastball are -10.2 and -39.5, which is a bit surprising.
Maholm is coming off of a down year. His ERA of 4.41 wasn’t too far above his career average of 4.28, but after adjusting for park and run environment it was nearly the worst season of his career (120 ERA-). He was left off of the Braves’ playoff roster for Freddy Garcia, who wasn’t exactly an appealing alternative.
Maholm also only managed 153 innings last season (and only 37 2/3 after the all star break), his lowest since breaking into the big leagues in 2005. He missed nearly a month with a throwing wrist sprain and missed a start in late September due to pitching elbow “inflammation”. This probably means that the physical isn’t a formality, but at least the Dodgers have the depth to overcome potential re-aggravation of these injuries.
If there’s any reason for hope for a rebound next season, it deep within Maholm’s peripherals. His FIP last year wasn’t great (4.24), but his xFIP was better (3.89). Maholm allowed a HR/FB of 13.8 percent last season, ninth-highest among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. His xFIP was nearly league average (103 xFIP-), about in line with the rest of his career. While moving to the Dodgers will actually hurt him slightly in terms of home run park factors, bad luck might have been a factor last season. Yasiel Puig might disagree, though:
Projection systems think Maholm has a chance to rebound. Steamer projects a 4.29 ERA and 3.95 FIP in 144 innings (in Atlanta), which is good enough for a 1.5 WAR by its metric. ZiPS is a bit more optimistic, projecting a 3.91 ERA and 3.94 FIP in 147 1/3 innings, which would give him a WAR of around 2. Both projections have him in the neighborhood of a league-average pitcher for 150 innings, which would be excellent for the money the Dodgers are probably giving to him.
And, really, that’s about in line with the rest of Maholm’s career. He’s been a nearly league-average pitcher by ERA (4.28), FIP (4.18) and xFIP (4.14). He’s only had one career bullpen appearance, so he might not be the ideal candidate to be a swingman during the beginning of the season. The time without requiring a fifth starter might help rest his arm a bit after the injuries last season, though.
Once the deal is officially announced, the Dodgers will need to make a 40-man roster decision, as there are no vacant spots right now. The simplest solution is to place Scott Elbert on the 60-day disabled list, as he’s out until at least midseason, if not longer. If that isn’t an option (due to the rules), perhaps a guy like Justin Sellers or Javy Guerra is designated for assignment to make room for Maholm. (UPDATE: Elbert was placed on the disabled list to make room for Maholm.)
It’s a 1-year deal, it’s likely cheap and gives the Dodgers some depth. It also doesn’t require them to give up a draft pick. Overall, it’s hard not to be OK with this deal (unless you’re Josh Beckett, that is).
Dustin Nosler also contributed to this post.