Pirates sign Charlie Morton to $21 million extension

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Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Pirates and right-hander Charlie Morton have agreed to a three-year, $21 million contract extension that also includes a team option for 2017.

Morton would have been eligible for free agency next offseason, but now the Pirates will have him under team control for $4 million in 2014, $8 million in both 2015 and 2016, and $9.5 million or a $1 million buyout for 2017.

Pittsburgh acquired Morton from Atlanta in the mid-2009 deal for Nate McLouth and he’s emerged as a solid mid-rotation starter with a 3.75 ERA during the past three seasons. However, the ground-ball machine has also thrown a total of just 338 innings over that three-year span, including making only 20 starts this year and eight starts last year due to Tommy John elbow surgery.

Buying out his first two (and potentially three) years of free agency for a modest $21 million commitment is a smart risk for the Pirates, because if healthy Morton certainly would have been in line for a lot more on the open market next winter.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.