pirates parrotEven though the Pirates are in need of rotation depth and stability, that didn’t stop them from trading pitcher Charlie Morton.

The Phillies sent right-handed pitcher David Whitehead in return for Morton, who was 41-62 with a 4.39 ERA/4.03 FIP/86 ERA+ in 142 starts (801.0 innings) with the Pirates from 2009 to 2015. Whitehead was a 34th round pick of the Phillies in 2013 from Elon University who has made 38 minor league starts in two seasons at Low-A Williamsport and High-A Clearwater.

The most important aspect of this deal is the money saved by the Pirates, who wipe out $8 million off their books for 2016 by sending Morton to Philadelphia (plus another $1 million on a buyout next year). Further, the deal triggered a clause in Morton’s contract, which turned a club option for 2017 worth $9.5 million into a mutual option. Morton could enter the free agent market after next season.

Even though the deal saves the Pirates some money over the next two seasons, it opens up a spot in the rotation. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke and recently-acquired Jon Niese are the only starting pitchers listed on the team’s depth chart.

The Pirates are walking the fine line of being a competitive team (remember, they won 98 games before being ousted by the Cubs in the Wild Card Game) and balancing what appears to be a tight budget. Pittsburgh has already lost J.A. Happ to free agency and A.J. Burnett to retirement. The team has also shed some key players with rising salaries from the 2015 squad.

Pedro Alvarez, who was projected to get $8.1 million in arbitration this offseason, was not tendered a contract. Neil Walker, projected to get a raise to $10.7 million, was traded to the Mets after they came short in their pursuit of Ben Zobrist. The Pirates still have some key players who are arbitration eligible, including closer Mark Melancon ($10.0 million) and lefty reliever Tony Watson ($4.6 million), among others.

It doesn’t sound as if the Pirates will fill Morton’s role with a pricey free agent replacement, as they have been tied to some reclamation projects. It’s a cost-efficient method that looks to be right up the alley of highly regarded pitching coach Ray Searage.

Still, it’s interesting to see how much subtraction the Pirates have done thus far without much addition.

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