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Bend It Like Morton

Charlie Morton

Chaz Morton will be one of the more frustrating pitchers in recent Pirate history when all is said and done Photo via AP/Keith Srakocic


If you are a Pirate fan, the name Tim Beckham should sound familiar. Beckham was the first pick in the 2008 Major League draft, one pick before the Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez (and three picks before the Giants selected Buster Posey).

The Rays have been ridiculed over the last several years as the draft class has produced many stars and the first overall pick has done nothing.

You could say that Beckham has had legitimate excuses for not being a major-league regular yet:

  • he was drafted out of high school
  • he was drafted as a shortstop
  • he has stayed at shortstop in an organization that values defense
  • he was drafted into an organization that started winning and didn ?t need him at the major-league level
  • he has had injuries

Excuses, even valid ones, get old and cause anyone to lose their patience; but this loss of patience might have cost the Rays millions of dollars.

So Beckham was called up in September of 2013. He played a couple games but tore his ACL in the winter and missed most of 2014. The few games he did log were spent in the minors.

Fast forward to this spring, Beckham has started 5 games at SS, 12 at 2B and 6 at DH and is currently slashing .241/.297/.448. At 25 and healthy he looks like an AL version of Josh Harrison and a piece in the Rays ? middle infield for years to come.

But ? by having him on the opening day roster and not waiting a couple weeks the Rays just lost a year of team control.

This sounds similar to a Pirate that might have caused the same amount of frustration: Charlie Morton.

Charlie Morton has had the same story for the Pirates. He ?s shown promise. He ?s had bad luck and injuries but the most common theme with Beckham is that he had just enough service time to grab and extra year and cost the Pirates some money.

Our friends at Fangraphs have a nice writeup on service time eligibility to give you some background. Morton was called up to the Pirates on June 10, 2009 to face his old team, the Braves. The Pirates were in 5th place at the time and Morton bumped Jeff Karstens to the bullpen.

The start was forgettable for Morton but should be a good trivia question for a Pirate fan. Morton lasted just one inning as his hamstring got tight and he was pinch-hit for in the top of the 2nd by Zach Duke.

Anyways, we know Morton ?s story over the next few years with the Pirates, but the facts that matters are these:

  • When Morton finished his 2011 season he had 3 years and 10 days of service time and qualified for arbitration by 21 days (read Fangraphs article for math).
  • When Morton finished his 2013 season he had 5 years and 10 days of service time and the Pirates only had one more year of control versus two

This is when the Pirates gave him a 3 year extension for $21M. If Morton would have been at 4 years and 171 days of service time in the winter of 2013, would they have locked him up or would they have waited another year? There probably wasn ?t a perfect way for the Pirates to have found 21 days of service time, but it ?s probably something they are regretting not figuring out.

Morton is immensely frustrating, as he tantalizes at times with his ability, but the Pirates wanted a “known” commodity when they signed him to his extension. With Liriano and Burnett’s futures up in the air, Taillon/Kingham/Glasnow still developing in the minors, and Locke not established in the Majors, the Pirates locked Morton down to a relatively team-friendly deal. Morton is a #4 caliber pitcher, due to his lack of innings provided and absence of a true out pitch, but paying him $8M/year is a paucity in today’s free agent pitching market.

Service time considerations are something that an average fan does not want to consider. They want the Pirates to win…right…now. But a few years after a player debuts, everyone forgets that if their team was just a little bit more patient, they could control their star player just a little bit longer. But hindsight is always 20/20.

About Michael Bradley (36 Articles)
Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.
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