Charlie Morton gets an extension

The Pirates made some news at the winter meetings today by signing Charlie Morton to a three-year contract extension with an option for a fourth year. According to Jeff Passan, who first reported the deal, it's worth $4 million in 2014 and $8 million a year in 2015 and 2016. The option is a team option worth $9.5 million with a $1 million buyout (which is where the extra million comes in when you see it's a 3-year/$21 million deal). Morton was due for his final year of arbitration in 2014 and he would've been a free agent after that, so this deal basically gives the Pirates the rights to Morton for his first three years of free agency.

Morton was a pretty solid pitcher for the Pirates in the later part of 2013. From August 7th (the start after the Cardinals bombed him in the finale of the five-game set at PNC), Morton made 11 starts and had a 2.67 ERA. He struck out 47 in 67 1/3 innings, walked 24, surrendered one (!) home run, and had a 1.75 GB/FB ratio. Tommy John surgery gave him his fastball back and combined with his 62.9% groundball rate, he was a really, really effective pitcher. If you go by FanGraphs WAR (I usually prefer Baseball-Reference WAR for more granular reasons, but I'll use FanGraphs here because it's strictly rate-based and I think Morton's final rates approximate his season well, even if he improved quite a bit from his first start to his last one) he was worth 1.3 wins in 20 starts last year. By traditional price valuation standards, that means he'd be worth between $8-9 million on the open market over 30 starts. By this winter's standards, he'd likely be worth more, without considering whether there's more room for improvement for him in the future.

Just about a year ago, the Pirates decided to offer Morton arbitration despite knowing that he'd miss at least 1/3 of 2013 with elbow problems. It was a decision that a lot of people (myself included) found pretty curious, but the Pirates have certainly been rewarded for it. I guess this is something to keep in mind this winter and every winter while we try to figure out what the Pirates' plans are; 12 months ago, something like this contract would've been impossible to predict. 

Of course, this contract would've been even harder to predict way back in 2010. That winter, Morton was rebuilding himself after a disastrous, homer-prone year with the Pirates and it seemed like he was never going to be a useful pitcher at all. The arc of Morton's career with the Pirates is wild; he went from a well-regarded young pitcher that was a big part of the Nate McLouth trade to an abject disaster. From there he re-invented himself as a groundball pitcher, but still had some struggles because his fastball had lost its zip. As it turned out, that was because he needed Tommy John surgery. He rebounded fromt he surgery, finally connected the fastball and curveball he had before his career revamp with the sinker he learned later on, and pitched well for the Pirates in a pennant race and in the National League Division Series. The fact that Morton earned this sort of extension (he did) and the fact that the Pirates are in a place where they want to have a Charlie Morton on their team over the next three years (that is: keeping a known-quantity middle of the rotation guy to start every fifth day because you're contending for a playoff spot rather than just tossing all kinds of crazy shit at the wall to see if anything sticks) is something that's just really, really nice.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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