The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton to the Philadelphia Phillies for right-handed pitcher David Whitehead, according to a Phillies press release. The Pirates have also announced the deal. Whitehead was the 34th round pick in 2013 and pitched in High-A last year at the age of 23, putting up a 4.44 ERA in 135.2 innings, along with a 6.2 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9.
Whitehead had Tommy John surgery before he was drafted, which led to him dropping so far in the draft in 2013. He has since gone back to hitting 93 MPH with his fastball, and working down in the zone. Matt Winkelman does a great job covering the Phillies prospects, and passed along this report:
.@timwilliamsP2 Big righty, heavy sinker 89-92 T93, has a curve and sinker, ceiling is #5 starter or middle reliever, mostly org depth
— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) December 12, 2015
Overall, this appears to be a salary dump, with the return for Morton being small. It does clear $8 M off the books this year, and $1 M next year for his buyout. More notably, it clears a rotation spot, with the Pirates rumored to be after some free agent starters.
Despite constant complaints, Morton is a guy who deserves to be starting in the majors. He’s a strong number four starter when he’s at his best, although he’s been inconsistent at times, in large part to his struggles against left-handers. The irony of this is that Morton was scheduled to be at PirateFest today, and I just finished sending a few interview thoughts to Sean McCool, hoping to see if Morton had been working on a changeup or some other approach this off-season to counter those issues against lefties. After many conversations with Morton last year, he seemed frustrated that left-handers were doing such a good job of squaring up on his sinker, and was hoping to find a way to prevent that.
Morton has more value to the Pirates than Whitehead. The Pirates have plenty of pitchers who are similar to Whitehead, with Frank Duncan sounding similar in value. Duncan didn’t rate in our Top 50, and I don’t project Whitehead to get consideration. The value of this move would be the extra payroll space. The Pirates now have a projected $86.5 M payroll, giving them plenty of room to add an outside arm. They’ve been linked to a lot of guys since the Jon Niese trade, and now they’ve got plenty of payroll space to add one of those guys and still make other moves.
The guys that they’ve been linked to would all be upgrades over Morton, with no worries about improvements against left-handers, or trying to get the best version of a starter. They should get some more security with the new pitcher. And I’m speaking like it’s a foregone conclusion that they’ll add a new pitcher, because that’s the only way this deal makes sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if we quickly hear that the Pirates have added someone else. Otherwise, it didn’t make sense to trade Morton right now, with no replacement in place, and for a pitcher that will get buried in the strong pitching group that exists between Altoona and Bradenton.