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Pirates cut ties with veteran pitcher Maholm

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011

The Pirates and pitcher Paul Maholm are poised to part ways.

The Pirates have decided against picking up Maholm's $9.75 million contract option for 2012. That will trigger a $750,000 buyout and allow the left-hander to become a free agent for the first time.

"There are no guarantees, but I'm going to test (free agency) and see where it goes," Maholm said Wednesday.

He said the team told his agent it wouldn't pick up the option. "I'm not going to close any doors, but I want to see what's out there," Maholm said. "I owe that to my family to do what's best for them."

The Pirates do not have to make a final decision regarding Maholm's option until five days after the World Series. That is also when free agency begins. If the team changes course and decides to pick up the option, it could trade him, but it would be difficult to find a trading partner at that price.

General manager Neal Huntington said he is not surprised Maholm is eager to test free agency.

"Does it make sense for us to bring him back for $9.75 million• Probably not," Huntington said. "If Paul ends up getting more money than we're willing to pay, that's great for him."

The Pirates could bring back Maholm with a new contract. However, Maholm's agent, Bo McKinnis, has suspended talks with the club.

Maholm's departure would create a hole near the top of the starting rotation next season. Right-hander Brad Lincoln, who spent most of this year at Triple-A Indianapolis, could be the top candidate to replace Maholm.

"We'll explore the free-agent market, the trade market and compare it to what we have internally," Huntington said. "This will be a very, very weak free-agent market."

The list of available free-agent starting pitchers could include Mark Buehrle, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Aaron Harang, Rich Harden and Carlos Silva.

A first-round draft pick in 2003, Maholm made 185 starts for the Pirates and went 53-73 with a 4.36 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. This season, he went 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA before going on the 60-day disabled list because of a sore shoulder.

Maholm signed a three-year, $14.5 million contract before the 2009 season. A reliable innings-eater — this season marked the first time Maholm had gone on the major league DL — he was the staff's No. 2 starter this year behind right-hander Kevin Correia.

Note: The Pirates returned to their radio roots by announcing a four-year broadcast agreement with CBS Radio's KDKA-FM. The station was the Pirates' flagship from 1955-2006. Clear Channel Communications had the Pirates' broadcast rights the past five seasons. The new flagship station will be Sportsradio 93.7 FM The Fan, which will broadcast pre- and postgame shows as well as all regular-season games, at least 16 spring training games each year, and the weekly, in-season Neal Huntington Show. The broadcast crew — Greg Brown, Tim Neverett, Steve Blass, Bob Walk and John Wehner — will remain intact.

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