Adding Morris, Pirates Must Look to Contend?

“I can learn from that man,” said Ian Snell of Matt Morris.
Just before the 4 p.m. trade deadline Tuesday, general manager Dave Littlefield sent Rajai Davis and a player to be named later to the San Francisco Giants for Morris, a right-handed starting pitcher.
Morris, 32, has a track record of major-league success. In 10 professional seasons, he has an earned run average of 3.83 and has won 118 ballgames. In his best year, 2001, Morris went 22-8 with a 3.18 ERA (though he hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2003). He was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995.
He’s paid handsomely, as pointed out earlier: Morris is making $9.5 million in 2007, will make the same in 2008, and has a $9 million option for 2009—though the Pirates can buy him out then for $1 million.
All told, the Pirates will owe Morris at least $15 million for his time spent in black and gold. He becomes the highest paid player in franchise history, surpassing Brian Giles and his $8.8 million salary in 2003.
Said ESPN’s Jayson Stark on the deal:

We love Matt Morris. Terrific guy. Has had a wonderful career. Should be a fine mentor to those young Pirates starters. But the Giants were just about begging teams to take Morris and offering to chomp big chunks of his money if they had to. Then this team going nowhere dropped out of the sky and took the man and the money. What a country. “That move,” said one incredulous front-office man, “is so far out of left field, it’s in the Monongahela.”

Not an unreasonable take, but consider the spin. Stark also said:

… The Pirates called. And wanted Matt Morris. His 7.94 ERA since mid-June? Not a problem. That $9.5 million he’s owed next year (counting his 2009 buyout)? Not a problem. And so they swooped in and finished off a deal for Morris minutes before the deadline—for a legit prospect (Rajai Davis) and a second [PTBNL] …

I disagree with Stark’s tone. I don’t think that the trade is inherently bad:

  • In what alternate reality is Stark living? “Rajai Davis” and “legit prospect” in the same sentence? No. No no no. Davis is nothing more than a fringe major leaguer, one of those guys that can tear up Triple-A but will never amount to much in the bigs. He is fast as lightning, but he has no instincts, can’t get on base and plays mediocre (or worse) defense. Legit prospect? Definitely not. Too much for eating Morris’ contract? We’ll see.
  • If Stark brings up Morris’ 7.94 ERA since mid-June, he has some journalistic responsibility to mention his 3.34 ERA in April, 2.50 ERA in May and 3.86 ERA in June. In 114 innings before the All-Star break, Morris had a 3.55 ERA. In 22 innings after, he has an ERA of 8.34. Maybe it’s a case of what have you done for me lately, or maybe we should consider that for the majority of the 2007 season, Morris has been effective. I think the reader should have an opportunity to make that decision for himself rather than being force-fed the fact that Morris is slumping.
  • It comes down to what Morris can do in Pittsburgh. He’s had success at PNC Park—in five starts here since 2004, Morris has a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings. Part of that may have to do with the Pirates’ miserable offense, but another part may be that the expansive left field keeps balls in the yard that would leave in smaller stadiums. If he pitches as he did in the first half, then I can’t see anyone calling the Pirates losers in this deal.

Dejan Kovacevic says it best, as usual:

… The Pirates have only X number of dollars, and they rather easily dispense it when it comes to certain older players—Morris, Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa—but are uncommonly tight-fisted about it when it comes to the building blocks of the franchise, whether that is bypassing a superior prospect in the draft or failing to compete for top talent in Latin America. …

If sinking 20 percent of the team’s 2007 payroll has a significant effect on spending next year—that is, if the Pirates traded for Morris and consider themselves complete—then this is a horrible move.
If, though, Dave Littlefield (or a new general manager) is given the proper funding to address the offense this off-season, the Morris deal might not be so bad. But I don’t mean Burnitz money. The Pirates must take the savings from any Jack Wilson trade, add a few million dollars more, and make a serious run at a free agent bat; alternatively, they could trade from the farm to acquire legitimate talent.
Most certainly, the Pirates will need to take the best possible talent available in the 2008 draft to save face. There’s no reason to spend $9.5 million on Matt Morris, $5.5 million on Jack Wilson and $0 million on Matt Wieters.
Adding Matt Morris doesn’t turn the Pirates from chumps to champs, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a step backwards, either. The jury will remain out on this one until we see how Morris pitches in 2007 and how the Pirates put together their roster in 2008. If he returns to form—even a 4.00 ERA would be a tremendous boost—and if Littlefield adds a bat or five, then perhaps all hope for next season isn’t lost.
But if Morris is our big-ticket item, the player expected to push us over the edge and into a position to compete in 2008?
We’ll be in trouble. Not because of Matt Morris, though—because of Ronny Paulino, Jose Bautista, Chris Duffy, etc.
We’re not one player away from competing, but the possibility exists that the Pirates may have a salvageable core of major-league talent that, with cultivation and expansion, could produce a .500 winning percentage.

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6 Responses to “Adding Morris, Pirates Must Look to Contend?”

  1. Matt Says:

    “We’re not one player away from competing, but the possibility exists that the Pirates may have a salvageable core of major-league talent that, with cultivation and expansion, could produce a .500 winning percentage.”
    Yes, it is possible to reach .500 in the next two years. But is it possible to do anything more, such as a postseason? I don’t really like the fact that the Pirates seem to be playing for a .500 season by 2009, after which they will likely have to start rebuilding or increase the payroll by a huge amount. I fear that if we stick with our current core, we will reach .500 in 2008 or 2009 then be right back to playing losing baseball for another five seasons. I want to be able to hope for more than a .500 record at some point in the future.
    Matt
    Wait ‘Til Next Year

  2. Randy Says:

    “There’s no reason to spend $9.5 million on Matt Morris, $5.5 million on Jack Wilson and $0 million on Matt Wieters.”
    Well put. I’m happy to have the Pirates spend some money. At this point, Wieters and his potential are more valuable than Morris and his experience and talent. Since Wieters is no longer a possibility, I’ll settle for Morris and as Dejan states, hope the Bucs choose wisely next June in the draft. Barring a nice stretch the final two months, it’ll be another top five pick.

  3. Lou Says:

    Good article. I was surprised when I looked at Morris’ stats last night that his numbers were very good as recent as the end of June. It’s possible that the Giants listness wore off on him. Not that it would be any better here. But maybe a younger group of players would listen to a veteran presence.
    Bottom line, the Bucs needed a veteran SP as much as the Giants needed to unload Morris. And if he is a start of more money being spent, then I’m ok with it.
    That said, I just pray it’s not Littlefield spending the cash this offseason.

  4. Cory Humes Says:

    I’d love to see them make the playoffs, Matt, but let’s be reasonable.
    The Pirates will almost certainly be a team coming off three consecutive 90-loss seasons in 2008. Can we expect them to make a 20-25 win improvement in the standings necessary to turn a last-place team into a contender?
    Probably not. I figure you start at .500 in 2008, then take a shot in 2009 — if contending’s the plan. Otherwise, you blow everything up and start with another rebuilding plan (if it’s clear you won’t be able to re-sign Bay, Sanchez, etc.)

  5. Matt Says:

    I agree. I don’t think we are going to contend with the team we have. I think we should be looking to deal our players of value (Bay, LaRoche, Nady, Sanchez) and rebuild in the high minors. Then we could have a decent group of young guys coming up in a few years, and hopefully our young rotation would be peaking around that time. I would hate to suddenly have a bunch of older guys hitting free agency in 2009 and not be able to get much in a trade for them.
    Matt
    Wait ‘Til Next Year

  6. Buccos Add Matt Morris Because Payroll Is No Issue Here | sportsocracy [dot] org Says:

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