Charlie Morton reminisces about his years with Pirates, adjusts to life with Phillies
March 9, 2016 12:00 AM
Pirates Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison greet ex-teammate Charlie Morton, now with the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Charlie Morton woke up Tuesday to the news that Pedro Alvarez and the Baltimore Orioles reportedly had agreed to a one-year, $5.75 million deal to end a free agency that lingered into spring training. Morton wondered what had taken so long.
Recently, Morton, 32, has let himself reminisce about the seven seasons he played for the Pirates — from 99 losses in 2009 to 98 wins in 2015 — before they traded the 32-year-old right-hander to the Philadelphia Phillies in December to save money.
On Morton’s hourlong commute between his home in Bradenton, Fla., and Bright House Field in Clearwater, home of the Phillies camp, he has time to think back to how the Pirates went from, in his words, “really bad to really good,” and the men who made it happen.
“I was really, really lucky to be a part of that,” Morton said Tuesday in the Phillies clubhouse.
Morton isn’t the only veteran presence gone from the Pirates. Between the National League wild-card game and the end of the calendar year, A.J. Burnett, Alvarez, Morton and Neil Walker moved on one by one. Burnett retired, Alvarez was not offered a contract and the other two were traded.
Tuesday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle tipped his cap to those four for the roles they played in ending the Pirates’ 20-year postseason drought and bringing the franchise back to prominence.
“They all played a part in what we were able to accomplish together,” Hurdle said. “Those roles won’t be taken lightly, and their efforts won’t be taken lightly. It’s very much appreciated.”
Alvarez, a former second overall pick, hit .243 with a team-leading 27 home runs in 2015, his sixth with the Pirates, but led all major league first basemen with 23 errors. The Pirates tried to trade Alvarez at several points over the past two years but were unable to do so.
Rather than pay Alvarez the roughly $8 million he would have made in his final year of arbitration, the Pirates declined to offer him a contract for 2016, and he walked away as a free agent.
Of the four departures, Morton’s was last and least expected. He had flown to Pittsburgh for PirateFest in mid-December and was about to meet Tony Watson for breakfast when general manager Neal Huntington called and alerted him to trade talks.
Soon it was official: Morton and his $8 million salary were sent to the Phillies in exchange for David Whitehead, a right-hander with no experience above Class A.
“It was the best thing for the organization,” Morton said. “What more can you do as a GM? That’s your job, to make the team the best it can be. I don’t take offense to it.”
In the Phillies, Morton sees a parallel to the Pirates team he joined six years ago. There’s a rush of young talent that still needs time to mature, so there’s a long way to go in the roster rebuild. He said he sees the restart in Philadelphia as a chance to replicate the Pirates’ rise.
The journey begins with relationships, he said. Before the Phillies’ 4-2 win Tuesday, Morton circled the field during Pirates batting practice and greeted his former teammates and coaches. They talked about his new job, and they reminisced about what they built together.
“I know what [those years] meant to me,” Morton said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t realize it to the full extent in the moment, but it’s easy to appreciate it now. … I’ve played long enough to know that window, those things come and go. It’s part of life. It’s part of human experience.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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