11:35am: Yahoo’s Jeff Passan brings to light an “interesting wrinkle” in Morton’s contract (tweet). The trade triggered a clause that converts his $9.5MM 2017 team option into a mutual option. As Passan notes, Morton is now very likely to hit the free agent market after the season.
9:39am: The Phillies have acquired right-handed starting pitcher Charlie Morton from the Pirates, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Twitter. The Pirates will pick up right-handed pitcher David Whitehead in the swap. The Phillies will pick up the tab for Morton. He is signed for $8MM in 2016 with a $9.5MM club option for 2017 ($1MM buyout). In a related move, the Phillies designated pitcher A.J. Achter to make room on the 40-man roster, per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki (tweet).
Morton, 32, is a veteran of eight major league seasons. He has a career 4.54 ERA with 6.28 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, and a 55 percent ground ball rate. Phillies fans will find his delivery uncannily familiar – Morton almost perfectly mimics the throwing motion of former Phillies star Roy Halladay.
The ground ball specialist has struggled with health in recent seasons, but he’s been modestly effective when on the field. Although he posted a 4.81 ERA in 129 innings last season, ERA estimators like xFIP (3.87) and SIERA (3.89) were more positive. While Morton had a rocky start to his early career, he’s actually projected to contribute a sub-4.00 ERA in 2016.
Morton joins a suddenly deep Phillies rotation that includes Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, and Matt Harrison. It’s unclear what, if any, role Harrison can fill. Even if Harrison spends the season on the disabled list, the club seems prepared to avoid forcing an unready pitcher like David Buchanan or Alec Asher from making regular starts.
In Whitehead, the Pirates acquired a former 34th round pick from the 2013 draft. Last season at High-A, Whitehead pitched to a 4.44 ERA with 6.24 K/9 and 3.38 BB/9 in 25 starts. Scouting reports describe him as a ground ball pitcher with a low-90’s sinker. He may have a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.
For Pittsburgh, this deal was mostly about escaping the $9MM guaranteed to Morton over the next two seasons. After dealing Neil Walker last week, the club has the necessary resources to pursue a starting pitcher in free agency. The Pirates are often tied to inexpensive reclamation projects like Justin Masterson or Mat Latos.
The swap necessitated the Phillies to make a 40-man roster move. Achter drew the short straw. The right-handed reliever was acquired off waivers from the Twins earlier in the offseason. The 27-year-old has a 90 mph fastball. He’s posted strong numbers are Triple-A but has yet to succeed at the major league level.