As we approach the end of July, the word that comes to mind for all baseball fans is “trades”. Regardless of whether your team is up or down, there is always trade speculation involving your team. That includes our beloved Cubs. While all of the talk revolves around whether Ryan Dempster will be dealt, as we approach the remainder of the 2012 season, it also is a good time to review some of the moves Theo Epstein and Company have already made so far.
Even Epstein wondered out loud to reporters at Spring Training when his honeymoon period with the media and fans would be up. Two years? Two months? Or two weeks? Although the Cubs may be on pace for a record losing season, I for one will not jump the gun on the Epstein era just yet. And I am sure most reasonable Cubs fans feel the same way. So with that in mind I kick of this series of reviews with the more than just the 2012 season in mind.
Today we continue the series with the second higher profile free agent signing by Epstein led Cubs front office. Despite totaling 29 losses to just 15 wins over the last two seasons, Paul Maholm fit the middle tier free agent with upside that Epstein was looking to patch up the Cubs roster with as he overhauled the organization from the ground up. Maholm also represented a veteran lefty arm to the Cubs rotation, a quality that has been missing since the Cubs traded away Ted Lilly.
Epstein emphasized depth and options for the starting rotation, and Maholm fit right into the middle of that plan. He was originally projected to be penciled in behind Dempster and Matt Garza in the rotation, but the emergence of Jeff Samardzija in Spring Training ended up bumping the lefty back one spot.
Maholm got his Cubs career off to a rocky start, getting blasted for 12 earned runs in his first two starts. He has since settled down with just a couple of hiccups along the way, and may now be peaking, as he is able to boast a six game quality start streak in which he has only allowed one run or less per start while going at least six innings. He has tallied five wins during this hot stretch, and would have been six for six in the victory column if Shawn Camp had not blown the hold yesterday afternoon.
A fifteen win season is not out of the question even if Maholm cools off, as he would just need to collect three wins per month for the remainder of the season. The lefty has not heard his name mentioned much in trade rumors, with the most prominent one involving his thoughts on a possible return to the now contending Pirates while the Cubs were visiting Pittsburgh. His performance over the last few weeks certainly is worthy of some trade talk attention, and he would certainly be valued at a mid level prospect or two to provide dependable rotation depth for a team making a playoff push.
The only concern is that Maholm has not had much of a successful track record. For example, he has never had a winning season. Much of that has to do with all of the losing teams he had to play for in Pittsburgh, but his WHIP over the years have been on the high side, averaging 1.407. He has a tendency to walk hitters, with his career walks per nine innings ratio at 3.0, but he has worked on improving this with the Cubs, currently sporting a career best 2.5 BB/9.
Even if Epstein decides he is not able to find quality trade value for Maholm over the next 24 plus hours to the trade deadline, the Cubs have a team option to bring the lefty back for 2013. Despite a pay raise to $6.5 million, at the rate Maholm has been pitching lately, picking up the option would be a cost effective move for the Cubs. Keep in mind that the 2013 rotation figures to be minus Dempster, regardless of whether the Cubs ace is traded or not. If the right offer comes along this off season, next year’s rotation also may be minus Garza too. Maholm would be an option to head the rotation with Samardzija.
As a result this signing by Epstein and Jed Hoyer has positives written all over it for this season and next season, regardless of whether Maholm is dealt or not. Until we find out if some of the prospects and young players in the other deals pan out, this move could end up being one of the top three moves made in year one of the Epstein era.
2012 Grade: A
2013 and Beyond Grade: A-