Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Pirates: Playing the Patsy

Maddening. Stupefying. Dumbfounding. Confounding.

This is primarily a Steelers blog, but as an avid, lifelong Pirates fan, I just can’t let this latest bumbling tomfoolery of a Dave Littlefield trade-deadline transaction pass without comment.

Alrighty then, let’s get to it: Dave Littlefield, Pirates general manager, has added pitcher Matt Morris and his mind-boggling contract.

This exasperating move is so astonishing in its ineptitude, on so many levels, as to be downright stupefying.

Terms of Morris's staggering contract, as reported by Dejan Kovacevic today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, are thus:

“Morris will take up roughly 20 percent of the Pirates' entire payroll, which now stands at $47.3 million without counting the $5.5 million in deferred money being paid to Jason Kendall.

“His salary this season is $10,037,283, breaking the previous franchise high of $8,833,333 for Brian Giles in 2003. Morris also is due $9.5 million next season, has a club option for $9 million in 2009 with a $1 million buyout and an unusual $2 million signing bonus that is due at the expiration of the contract.

His total guaranteed money, including the prorated $3.66 million salary for this season, is $15.7 million.”

This is exactly the kind of trade the Pirates shouldn't be making. How many times has this sort of thing happened during the past 8-10 years (under Bonifay and Littlefield alike)? … i.e., misguided spending; staggeringly bad baseball decisions; no plan, no vision, no clue. I've said it time and again, starting with Derek Bell and continuing right through Burnitz, Randa, Armas, et al, and now Morris, ad nauseaum: "I would rather take that money (starting with $9 million for Bell, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseaum) and INVEST IT IN SCOUTING AND DEVELOPMENT!!!"

No, they keep plowing millions upon millions of dollars into broken-down, over-the-hill veterans too numerous to recount. Does Littlefield really believe this kind of short-sighted, short-term move will save his job? Matt Morris? At this point of his career?? For the salary he's making??? Ugh.

There is nothing creative, helpful or productive about this transaction.

By the way, minutes after the deal was consummated yesterday, Littlefield was interviewed on the Bendel & Benz radio show on 970-AM. His exact words, verbatim:

“We’re pleased with where we’re at.”

Okay, "where we're at," then, if you please? Last place; 15 years of losing. And counting. That’s “where were at.”

The View From the Other Side

San Francisco Giants fans and media are chortling and hoo-hooing about this deal. They couldn't wait to ride Morris out of town, and they still can't believe they found a willing sucker to play the patsy.

They are downright gleeful and incredulous that the Giants didn't have to assume even part, let alone all of, Morris's contract.

Check out the write-up and reader comments in the excellent blog, McCovey Chronicles, and also the mainstream coverage at

It's tragicomic reading for Pirates’ fans.

And, we can only hold our collective breath and cringe in anticipatory “hope” that the players to be named later in both the Cesar Izturis and Matt Morris deals won’t turn into productive major leaguers for the Cubs and Giants, respectively. That would be insult upon injury because, Lord knows, we don’t have enough of those types of players on our major-league club.

I'm going to the Pirates' game tonight … and it’s just, well, sad, that this proud franchise has been reduced to this state of pathos.*

*State of Pathos: Exhibit ACatcher Ronny Paulino’s ineptitude on consecutive plays last night, failing to catch a foul pop-up (albeit with an apparently wicked spin) and failing to catch Jack Wilson’s perfect relay throw that would have cut down a lumbering Scott Rolen at the plate (albeit with a tough short-hop). Both plays may have been deceptively tough, but they have to be made, if you have the talent, will and gumption to compete in the major leagues. If not, well, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates.**

Other viewpoints:

ESPN’s Jayson Stark:

“The Giants' brass was sitting around its suite Tuesday morning, bemoaning the fact that it had no decent deals cooking whatsoever. And then, out of the blue, it happened. 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), a second prospect to be chosen from an agreed-upon list and absolutely zero money changing hands. Well, it didn't take long. For the next two hours, after people around baseball learned of this deal, they couldn't stop calling, e-mailing and texting reactions that could probably be summed up with three succinct words: WHAT THE BX!GRZFDQ!!!!! Don't get us wrong here. 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.”

Henry Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle:

“Morris' tone in a phone interview made it clear he was not happy with the deal, but he held his tongue lest he insult his employer for the next 14 months - the 42-62 Pirates, who have not had a winning season since Barry Bonds left as a free agent in 1992.”

“Maybe if he pitched better there would have been different circumstances for him or the organization as far as the deal," said Giants general manager Brian Sabean, who said the Giants would have tried to trade Morris even if he were winning.

“To turn the page the way we're doing things, we're going to need as much flexibility as we can get next year,” Sabean said. "Unfortunately, in Matt's situation, he became the odd man out.”

Shedding Morris' salary means as much or more than the players the team got in return. Nevertheless, in Rajai Davis, the Giants add a needed element in their organization, a young outfielder with speed.

John Perotto, Beaver County Times:

“Every non-contender in baseball, except one, was looking to deal high-salaried players for youngsters Tuesday as the non-waiver trading deadline came and went.

“That exception was the Pittsburgh Pirates, who traded for a pitcher with $15.7 million left on his contract despite being on their way to a 15th straight losing season.”

“The Pittsburgh Pirates got pitcher Matt Morris from San Francisco on Tuesday, an uncommon deal for a high-priced player by an out-of-contention team at the trading deadline ... Normally, teams not in the race don't look to add an aging and expensive starter such as Morris.”

Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News:

“Morris was pitching horrendously – no shock to this raging skeptic, since I suggested that the Giants should've traded him months ago.”

Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports:


1. Pirates

“The idea of adding veteran right-hander Matt Morris to lead a young rotation isn't ridiculous. But has anyone with the Pirates seen Morris pitch lately?

“Over his last eight starts he has allowed almost two hits per inning, his ERA rising from 2.56 to 4.35. Morris, who turns 33 on Aug. 9, is one of the game's great competitors, but his successful opening to the season now looks like an aberration.

“No low-revenue team can afford a No. 5 starter earning $9.5 million, and that description could very well fit Morris next season. GM Dave Littlefield just keeps digging himself a bigger hole.”


**Here's John Perrotto's account of "The Paulino Sequence" in last night's game:

"With the score tied 2-2, two outs and a runner on first base in the sixth inning, the St. Louis Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick lofted a high pop fly toward the screen behind home plate. Catcher Ronny Paulino drifted back toward the ball then watched as it landed two feet away from him.

"Ludwick then ripped the next pitch to the center-field fence and Scott Rolen scored the go-ahead run when Paulino, who may have the most famous hands of stone since Roberto Duran, dropped shortstop Jack Wilson's perfect on-target relay throw.

"For good measure, after being booed off the field at the end of the top of the sixth, Paulino lined the first pitch in the bottom of the inning into the gap in left-center but was robbed on a diving catch made by none other than Ludwick, the left fielder.

"Thus, the Pirates fell to an abysmal 2-14 since the All-Star break and 20 games under .500 at 42-62."