Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Matt Morris & Barry Zito: Funny. Money.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls get annoyed when we hear curmudgeonly old-school sportswriters (Ron Cook, Bob Smizik) in the mainstream media chastise Pirates' fans for feeling bad that the Pirates had to eat the $10 million contract (plus a $1 million buyout) of pitcher Matt Morris, who was clearly at the end of the road and whom the team released on Sunday.

"It's not your money," the sportswriters say. "That's Bob Nutting's money. It's not coming out of your pocket."

We beg to differ. Because a major league team is, in a sense, community property, the money does, in a sense, come out of our pockets. And, really, isn't it naïve to suggest costs like this won't get passed along to the fans? Have you tried to buy a beer at PNC Park lately?

Now, this is not to denigrate Matt Morris. By all accounts, Matt Morris conducted himself with humility, honor, grace and dignity during his brief career with the Pirates. His teammates praised his willingness to help them any way he could. He just couldn't pitch any longer.

Too bad for him, and even worse for the Pirates' new front office team, which inherited Morris from the inept, hapless and clueless regime of former general manager Dave Littlefield. When the San Francisco Giants were desperately trying to find a taker for Morris at last season's trade deadline and by all accounts were more than willing to pay a substantial portion of his substantial salary just to get rid of him, Littelefield swooped in and saved the day.

For the Giants.

Littlefield not only agreed to take on Morris's entire contract, he threw in a player (Rajai Davis) from the Pirates' roster. Now, Morris is gone, and the Pirates are stuck paying off his $10 million salary, plus the $1 million buyout.

So, although curmudgeonly local sportswriters (Ron Cook; Bob Smizik) tell fans it's not our money, and that we shouldn't care -- well, in a way, it is our money, and we most certainly do care.

We don't like the idea that our team got fleeced, that our buffoon of a general manager got suckered, that our team is mired in a 16th straight losing season, and that our team is out more than $11 million it could have spent on scouting, player development and, say, oh, the drafting of uber-prospect Matt Wieters, who is positively tearing it up in the minors for Baltimore, instead of Littlefield's choice, Daniel Moskos, who most assuredly is not tearing it up in the minors for Pittsburgh.

For as bad we might feel as Pirates' fans, however, we can be glad we're not Giants' fans. Before the 2007 season, the Giants compounded their mistake of signing Morris to an overpriced contract by signing lefthand pitcher Barry Zito to a n even more obscenely overpriced, seven-year, $126 million contract. He was to be the team's ace.

As it turns out, Zito has been a Giant flop. With a record of 0-6 record and an ERA of 7.53, Zito has been relegated to the bullpen. There is legitimate speculation that his arm is dead. His career over. Kaput.

But that contract's not over, nor is the Giants' obligation to pay Zito. Nope, not by a long shot. Talk about sunk costs and dead money.

So, just imagine being a Giants' fan, and how they must feel. Of course, for them, it could have been even worse.

They could have been stuck with both Zito and Morris. They should have been, and would have been, if not for Dave Littlefield.

The Giants and their fans should send Littlefield a sincere "thank you" card for taking Morris off their hands. And a second card, too, for drafting pitcher Matt Lincoln (who promptly got hurt, naturally, in keeping with the pattern of pitchers chosen by Littlefield in the first round of the amateur draft) in 2006 instead of star pitcher Tim Lincecum, who is being described in San Francisco as "a modern-day Steve Carlton," for cryin' out loud (the legendary Carlton, a former Phillie, is a Hall of Famer).

So, to re-cap: Dave Littlefield not only cost the Pirates $11 million+ by engineering the trade for Matt Morris; he also passed on the Ruthian Matt Wieters (in favor of Daniel Moskos); and he also passed on the Steve Carlton-like Tim Lincecum (in favor of Matt Lincoln).

Yup, as Pirates fans, we have every right to feel bad. Still, how pathetic must it be to live as Giants' fans … and have Pirates' fans taking pity on them?

Then again, they do have the "modern-day Steve Carlton." And we have Matt Lincoln. Somewhere. In our farm system. Somewhere?

At least he's not Barry Zito.

Life is good.