Why Matt Morris?

Matt Morris pitching for the San Francisco Giants
At the trading deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates pulled an under-the-radar deal to land veteran starter Matt Morris, in return for outfielder Rajai Davis. The 32-year-old Morris might have been a nice pickup for a team in contention, but for the last-place Bucs the trade is something of a head-scratcher — at least on the surface.

The apparent lunacy of the trade intrigued me enough to ask our Pirates correspondent Cory Humes of Pittsburgh Lumber Co. for his no-holds-barred explanation. Here are his thoughts:

“Rajai Davis is, well, crap — he’s fast and that’s about it. His speed helps him a little in the field (he’ll take horrible routes to balls, but make up for it because he’s so quick), but not so much that I’d consider him an above average defender. He’d be an amazing basestealing threat if he had any instincts whatsoever — in the short time he was with the Pirates this year, I can’t begin to count the number of times he was picked off. And, despite being one of the fastest players in the league, he refuses to put the ball on the ground. He might — might — be a fourth outfielder in time, but the general sentiment around Pittsburgh is that he’s nothing we’ll miss. At 27, he’s not a prospect, and we’ve got two similar players — Chris Duffy and Nyjer Morgan — about ready to come back from injury.

As far as the young pitching goes — where is it? Duke’s hurt, Gorzelanny’s overworked, Snell hasn’t won in years, Shane Youman’s minor-league filler, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington and Sean Burnett all need more time in AAA. Only Paul Maholm has pitched up to expectations — and ideally, he’d be our fourth or fifth starter. So yeah, we came into the year thinking we had tons of sexy arms, but they’re all M.I.A.

I don’t like the fact that Littlefield ate more of Morris’ contract than he reportedly needed to, but I don’t hate the deal altogether. If the Pirates are in a win-sorta-soon mode (meaning 2008 and 2009, before Bay, Sanchez, et al. leave via free agency), then this makes a bit of sense. Rather than try to sign someone like a Jeff Suppan or Gil Meche for four years and $40 million (or five and $55m), they got Morris for 1.5 or 2.5 years, depending on how long they’d like to keep him. If he pitches as he did earlier this year (or as he did in his first Pirate start — until the defense let him down), he’s not a horrible investment. He’ll stabilize the staff, eat innings, blah blah blah — the stuff that that type of pitcher is supposed to do.

I think the Pirates are planning on keeping Morris as a #3 starter (behind Snell and Gorzelanny) for 2008, trading Wilson (to the Tigers? for something reasonable?) and spending about $15m in free agency to boost the offense and defense. I’d guess a two-year deal to a center fielder, a cheap extension on Izturis and maybe one more surprise. “

Interesting thoughts. I suppose if a journeyman like Jeff Suppan can command $60M on the open market, a guy like Morris is a relative bargain — and without the 5-year commitment. If the Bucs are active during the winter in the free-agent market, and can find takers who over-value their young arms, then the Morris deal makes some sense. But they seem to have a number of holes to fill before moving up in the standings — even in the weak NL Central.

Who knows? Maybe A-Rod and Carlos Zambrano have always harbored a secret desire to play in Pittsburgh. Though even with those two additions, the Pirates might still be two or three players short.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. sincekindergarten August 15, 2007 at 4:16 pm
    Joe, I’ve also heard that Morris likes to impart wisdom onto younger pitchers–and he’d be the “old man” to do that with the Pirates.
  2. isuzudude August 17, 2007 at 12:59 am
    What is this guy smoking? Earth to Pirates fans: you have a last place team. You shouldn’t be taking on payroll in the form of a 32 year old journeyman starting pitcher. I don’t care if you only have to give up a broken bobblehead doll, the trade is pointless because of Morris’ contract. The only justification is that Morris can instill experience on the younger pitchers of the staff. Fine, then, then make the guy retire and cut his pay to be a pitching coach. Otherwise, he’s only clogging a rotation spot that should be occupied by Snell, Gorzelanny, Duke, Maholm, and one of their other young pitchers. If Morris was so wise with young pitchers, don’t you think SF would have wanted to keep him around with Lincecum and Cain on their roster?

    For this guy to say Maholm is the only pitcher on the team to live up to expectations with what Gorzelanny has done this season makes me question whether he even keeps track of the team.