2013 was a terrific bounce-back season for Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton in more ways than one.
Not only did the lanky right-handed starter return to the big leagues after Tommy John surgery, Morton put together arguably the best season to date. While making 20 starts for the playoff-bound Bucs, the 30-year-old recorded career-bests in ERA (3.26), WHIP (1.284), hits per nine innings (8.8) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.36 to 1).
Moreover, Morton was a reliable member of the Pirates’ starting staff in the franchise’s first winning season since 1992. On Wednesday, the Bucs made sure he would continue to be part of the team, as they signed Morton to a contract extension.
The deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, will pay Morton $21 million over the next three seasons, with a club option for a fourth season worth up to $10 million. Morton was second-year arbitration eligible and the Pirates tendered him a contract late last month, but this agreement gives Pittsburgh cost certainty at perhaps the most important position on the diamond. Morton made $2 million last offseason through arbitration, and his price projected to increase greatly if he continued anywhere near his 2013 level of success.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, currently attending the MLB Winter Meetings in Orlando, has yet to comment on the deal, but Morton’s agent Andrew Lowenthal spoke with Passan about his client’s big score:
“The most important part of this deal and the reason why this deal got done is Charlie wanted to remain a Pirate and considers himself a Pirate. He loves the city. He loves the fans. The team stuck by him. This is Charlie’s way of being loyal to the organization. The contract is a win-win.”
It’s easy to agree with Lowenthal, as Morton’s grounder-inducing ways dovetail perfectly with the aggressive defensive shifting employed by the Pirates last season – and presumably into the future. Although Morton used his curveball to help goose his strikeout rate to 6.6 per nine, his wicked two-seam fastball helped him compile a stunningly-good ground-ball rate of 62.9 percent last season.
On the other hand, the Pirates are taking some risk of sunk cost with Morton, who has topped the 20-start and 100-inning plateaus just twice in five seasons with Pittsburgh. He’s battled through severe injuries to his throwing shoulder and elbow, so the prospect of missed time will likely always be in play.
According to Passan, the extension is the largest contract ever signed by a Pirates pitcher.