Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates have given Charlie Morton a three year extension that is worth $21 M. The deal could be worth up to $30 M, as Morton has an option for a fourth season. The contract breaks down as follows:
2014: $4 M
2015: $8 M
2016: $8 M
2017: $9.5 M + $500,000 in potential incentives ($1 M buyout)
If Morton is traded, the club option turns into a mutual option, although Morton would forfeit the buyout if he declined that option.
Earlier in the off-season I wrote about how Morton is an under-rated pitcher who compares to Brandon Webb and Derek Lowe due to his extreme ground ball ratios. I suggested in that article that they give him a three year extension, although my estimates on the cost were a little high, coming right after Tim Lincecum’s deal inflated expectations for the market.
Morton would have been a free agent after the 2014 season, so this buys out control of his first three free agent years. The Pirates are getting a fair deal on those years, getting Morton for essentially a three year, $26 M deal if his option is exercised. By comparison, Scott Feldman just received a three year, $30 M deal on the open market. Feldman had a 2.1 WAR over a full season in 2013, while Morton had a 1.3 WAR in just half a season.
The Pirates project to have a lot of young pitching talent coming up in the next few years. They added Gerrit Cole in 2013. Jameson Taillon could join the group in 2014. Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham could be next in line in 2015. That potentially sets up for a nice young rotation. However, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez are only under team control through the end of the 2014 season, so they will need a pitcher to join that young group beyond 2014. Morton not only gives them a great option to pair with the younger pitchers, but he also provides insurance for the rotation if any of those younger pitchers fail to reach their upside, or get delayed on their way to the majors.
There is some risk involved here due to Morton’s injury history. However, since his transformation to a sinkerball pitcher he has been excellent when healthy. Last year he looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter, and this deal is definitely below market rate for that type of pitcher.
UPDATE 2:48 PM: Bill Brink has the details on the performance bonuses in 2017.
The $500,000 in bonuses available in Morton's 2017 option are for games started: $125,000 each for 15, 20, 25 and 30 starts.
— Bill Brink (@Bill_Brink2) December 11, 2013