When the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Charlie Morton from the Atlanta Braves as part of the controversial Nate McLouth trade in 2009, it was a very unpopular trade to say the least.
Not only did the Pirates trade away a fan favorite and arguably their best player, they received more minor league prospects in return—that concept has been occurring way too often in Pittsburgh.
Maybe just maybe, that trade wasn't so lopsided after all.
To compare the two main players involved in the trade at the time it happened would be unfair. The winner of the deal would be the Braves hands down, as McLouth was coming off a 26 home run and 94 RBI all star season; Morton accumulated a 4-8 record with a 6.15 era in 2008.
The trade would make most people scratch their heads.
While McLouth had a decent 2009 season with 20 home runs and 70 RBI, he hit just .257. He followed up that season with six home runs and 24 RBI and a eye opening .190 batting average. Last season also included a minor league demotion during the middle of the year.
That being said, Morton wasn't exactly let off the hook.
Let's start by stating the obvious: Charlie Morton has a major league record of 11-29; his career era is 5.98—certainly those aren't stats deserving of praise.
If you look a little closer though, there is a strong possibility those numbers may be reversed beginning in 2011.
When Pirates GM Neil Huntington acquired Morton, it was because he had a huge upside. He had then the best stuff of any pitcher on the Pirates major league roster at the time of the trade and still does today.
The last two months of last season Morton was the best pitcher in the rotation. He has picked up this spring where he left off last season.
So far in spring training, he has been the best pitcher in camp. The Flemington, NJ native has a 1.29 era in 14 innings pitched.
Morton's best performance came today in a 3-1 victory over the Astros in Kissimmee, Florida. The right-hander went six innings, gave up no runs and struck out five.
Keep in mind that this is only March and we are still 11 days away from opening day. Enthusiasm should be tempered a bit, but Morton himself says he has a different feel this year compared to 2010.
Referring to previous starts to the season, Morton states:
"What you do is try to maintain what's working into the season. You don't try to do more as soon as the season starts. You don't hit the panic button, either. I remember the first game last year, I approached it like it was something totally different than what I'd been doing in spring training."
The difference in Morton this year has also gotten the attention of the Pirates first year manager Clint Hurdle:
"He was able to honestly self-evaluate, realize what his strengths are and how he needed to be focused coming into camp, repeat his delivery, control his emotions, put his sinker back in play," according to Hurdle.
The starting rotation should be announced no later than the end of this week. Barring an injury or a total reversal of fortunes in Morton's next start, he will be named the fifth starter.
For the right-hander, that will hopefully be the next step in many important steps.
If all goes well for Morton this season, there will still be a lot of people scratching their heads.
This time, they just may be wondering why the Braves ever traded Charlie Morton.