PITTSBURGH -- Though the Pirates do not plan on paying Paul Maholm $9.75 million -- the value of the left-hander's 2012 club option -- to pitch for them next year, the club has still not entirely ruled out that option being exercised.
That was the statement provided by general manager Neal Huntington on Wednesday, when he noted that keeping the option in play allows the Pirates to retain some leverage in case a trade partner emerges this month.
"We have not officially determined that we are going to decline the option," Huntington said.
Huntington's comments came hours after team president Frank Coonelly told a Pittsburgh-area radio station that the team was unlikely to exercise the option and that the Pirates had already informed Maholm of that decision.
There is a $750,000 buyout if the one-year option is not picked up.
While the club may have decided that Maholm's value does not fit into its 2012 plans, the Pirates do not intend to officially decline any of their players' options until at or close to the deadline, in case those options can help trigger a trade.
With the free-agent market thin in starting pitching this offseason, there is the possibility that another club would see the $9.75 million price tag for Maholm as an affordable one. In that case, the Pirates could exercise the option and then flip Maholm to another team in a trade before the free-agency period begins.
The window for this continues to dwindle as the month progresses. Unless otherwise specified in a player's contract, teams have until five days after the conclusion of the World Series to officially decline or exercise club options.
If Maholm does become a free agent, that won't immediately shut the door on his career in Pittsburgh. He would still be free to negotiate with the Pirates, if there is mutual interest in doing so, to see if a separate agreement could be reached.
Drafted by the Pirates in 2003, Maholm is 53-73 with a 4.36 ERA in seven seasons in Pittsburgh. He finished 2011 with a 6-14 record and 3.66 ERA in 26 starts. Maholm missed the final six weeks of the season due to a left shoulder strain.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.