It's 12:21 pacific time on deadline day in Brian Sabean's office at AT&T Park. He has determined that, come hell or high water, he is dealing expensive starter Matt Morris. In all likelihood it will be to a contender looking to stash an experienced arm on its depth chart. And because Morris is guaranteed another $3 million this year, $9.5 million next and a $1 million buyout for the 2009 season, Sabean is resigned to the fact that he will have to eat some of this dough in order to ship Morris.
The phone rings
Sabean: Brian Sabean here.
Dave Littlefield: Hi Brian, how's it going. I would chat but we don't have much time left. What do I have to do to make Morris a Buc?
Sabean: (covers phone mouthpiece and yells to his colleagues) Guys! It's Littlefield. He wants Morris!
Dick Tidrow: You're shitting me.
Sabean: (gets back on phone) Dave, what would your initial offer be for Morris?
Littlefield: Rajai Davis and a player to be named. Straight up. No money changes hands. He's the sort of veteran we could use around these parts and I think Davis and another player in our system is a fair offer.
Sabean: (once again holding mouthpiece of the phone) Oh my God.
Tidrow: What? What's the offer? And how much money would we take on?
Sabean: Hold on, Dave. (puts phone on hold) Rajai Davis and a player to be named, and he bears the all of the financial burden.
Tidrow: You're shitting me.
Sabean: Nope. (takes phone off hold) You have yourself a deal, Dave. Congrats, you will really like Matt. He didn't fit in with us but I think he will make a nice addition.
Littlefield: Pleasure doing business, Brian.
In case there is any confusion, that is probably a pretty decent proxy for how yesterday's swap of Matt Morris and Rajai Davis between the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates played out. It's the most non-sensical, criminally damaging move I can remember seeing executed by a team. Pittsburgh, with a payroll just north of $38 million in 2007, has agreed to a $13.5 million commitment to Matt Morris.
Morris turns 33 next week and has not been even an average pitcher in four years. He will in all likelihood constitute a larger percentage of his team's 2008 payroll than just about any other player in baseball. After a smoke and mirrors start to the 2007 season, he has posted a 7.50 ERA or so since mid June. There is just no overstating, or even accurately putting into words, just how little sense this deal makes for Pittsburgh.
Rajai Davis is 26 years old, a good fielding center fielder and one of the fastest players in all of Major League Baseball. In over 600 Minor League contests, he has averaged about 65 steals per 162 games played, and at an exceptional success rate to boot. In July, he appeared to be turning a corner with his bat, as he hit .389/.450/.500 this past month in limited time. His ceiling is low, but he could conceivably be a decent MLB starting center fielder if he develops a bit more. On top of this, the Giants will get another player from Pittsburgh's system.
The worst part of this is the opportunity cost that their financial outlay to Morris will represent. Just think of some of the ways this money could have been better spent. No, the Bucs will never be playing at the high end of the free agent market and the middle of the market is usually bogged down with the, well, Matt Morris's of the world. But do you think Pirates fans would have preferred Matt Wieters or Rick Porcello to Daniel Moskos? What about Andrew Miller or Tim Lincecum in Brad Lincoln's stead?
There are a number of ways to leverage financial assets, and acquiring mediocrities (say hello Cesar Izturis, Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz, Matt Lawton et al) is a fool-proof way to ensure your small market franchise never competes, never excites your fanbase and never develops intriguing youngsters at the top-end of the amateur draft pool. Dave Littlefield's incompetence is well documented, but this latest deal is so criminal in its senselessness that it would warrant the most radical of actions from Pittsburgh fans.
Don't go to the ballpark. Don't buy another piece of memorabilia. Don't turn on your televisions to watch the games. Don't flip on the radio to listen in. Your team does not care about you, and you should not care about it. Not until ownership makes even a token gesture that it is committed to putting a viable product on the field should Buc fans reciprocate with any sort of commitment of their hard earned dollars.