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Phillies buy low on Charlie Morton

The Philadelphia Phillies acquired Charlie Morton in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates which has the potential to look pretty good for Matt Klentak and company this time next year.

Morton doing his Roy Halladay impression.
Morton doing his Roy Halladay impression.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the focus of the Philadelphia Phillies offseason has been new General Manager Matt Klentak's continued selling of the assets to rebuild a once decimated farm system.  The recent Ken Giles trade netted the Phillies a cool haul of prospects from the Houston Astros, and inspired a satirical article that caused a Twitter firestorm for Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski.

In the midst of the dealing, Klentak has also managed to make some major league acquisitions as well, including acquiring Charlie Morton from the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league pitcher David Whitehead on Saturday. The 23-year-old Whitehead spent the 2015 campaign with Single-A Clearwater posting pedestrian numbers. While this transaction shouldn't give Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter reason to start planning a parade down Broad Street for next November, it is a really solid buy-low pickup for a team in full-on rebuild mode.

Morton is probably best-known for his Roy Halladay-esque delivery to the plate, but he has also been one of the best groundball pitchers in the game for the past three seasons.  In 2015, he ranked fifth in baseball in groundball rate for pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched.  From 2013-2015, among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched, Morton is second to Dallas Keuchel with a 58.3% groundball rate. His propensity to have hitters pound his sinker into the ground makes him a good fit for the Phillies playing in the cozy confines of Citizen's Bank Park.

In acquiring Morton, Klentak is betting that he can regain at least some of his form that made him a useful starting pitcher for the Pirates for the past seven years.  Morton dealt with recovering from offseason hip surgery and bad luck in the left on base percentage and home run to fly ball rate departments in 2015, but still would have been the third-best starter by fWAR on the Phillies behind Cole Hamels and Jerad Eickhoff.  In 129 innings with the Pirates last year, Morton posted a 4.81 ERA, but an xFIP of 3.87 and SIERA of 3.89 were much kinder to him.

Morton has been oft-injured, though since returning from Tommy John surgery performed in 2012, he has seen his strikeouts go up and walks down.  If he can remain healthy over a full season - a big if - Morton can be a successful pitcher who could make an impact on a young Phillies rotation.  Considering the low price to the Phillies, this swap could pay real dividends on the field in 2016.

Beyond that, Morton has a $9.5 million mutual option for 2017, and given the direction the free agent market is trending it's hard to see Morton not becoming a free agent after the year.  If he can bounce back and have a solid season in the City of Brotherly Love, he can make himself into a very attractive option on the market.

As for the Pittsburgh side of this trade, it appears to be a pure and simple salary dump to be able to free up space to make a move in free agency.  With the acquisition of Jon Niese from the New York Mets earlier in the week, Morton became expendable.  With the Chicago Cubs throwing money around this offseason, the need to upgrade in Pittsburgh has become more pressing.  Considering the low-leverage that the Pirates had in this deal, they got the most they could in return for Morton, but now they need to make that splash.


Joe Vasile is the Assistant General Manager/Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.