January 4, 2002: Matt Morris, Cardinals agree to a three-year deal

Matt Morris

After winning 22 games and placing third in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2001, Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris was arguably at the height of his negotiating power.

At a time when many players would have called their agent to begin laying the groundwork for a new contract that would take full advantage of their newfound earning potential, Morris didn’t place a single call to his agent. After all, he didn’t have one.

Instead, Morris negotiated a three-year, $27-million contract with the Cardinals himself over the course of two telephone calls with St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty. [1]

“It was something I enjoyed doing,” Morris said. “Walt sent me a proposal I thought was fair. They’ve always treated me well, even with my injuries and everything. I wanted a good relationship with them. I’ve had a good relationship with them. Trying to sell yourself is a bit different but I had a decent year … a very good year, and that spoke a lot for itself.”[2]

2002 Donruss Studio

“When we started the process, I knew it would be just the two of us dealing with each other and I told him from the very beginning that we were going to be fair,” Jocketty said. “Sometimes in dealing with an agent, they feel you probably have to send a lower offer than you would normally, so they feel they have to negotiate something to basically justify what they’re doing.”[3]

Morris, who missed the 1999 season following Tommy John surgery, was limited to 53 innings out of the bullpen in 2000, making all 31 of his appearances in relief. By 2001, however, Morris was at full strength. He threw 216 1/3 innings, going 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA and 185 strikeouts.

In the NLDS, he twice matched up against the Diamondbacks’ Curt Schilling. In Game 1, Morris allowed just one run over seven innings but took the 1-0 loss as Schilling pitched a complete-game shutout. In the decisive fifth game, Morris was even better, allowing just one run over eight innings. Once again, however, Schilling held the Cardinals in check in a 2-1 Diamondbacks win.

“We are very pleased to have Matt’s deal in place,” Jocketty said. “We feel that he is one of the top young pitchers in the game and that he should be treated as such.”[4]

Morris was eligible for salary arbitration in 2002, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he likely would have been awarded a salary approaching $10 million before entering free agency at season’s end. [5] Instead, Morris prioritized the security of a multi-year contract.

“I was looking forward to staying in St. Louis for an extended number of years,” Morris said. “With the injuries in the past, I was just happy to get something on paper, which was three years in this case.”[6]

2004 Leaf

The contract called for Morris to earn $4 million in 2002, followed by salaries of $10.5 million in 2003 and $12.5 million in 2004.

“Obviously, the first year it hurts me and helps out the club but in that third year … that sets me up in position for a new contract,” Morris said.[7]

Morris’s $9 million average salary placed him alongside center fielder Jim Edmonds, who was playing on a six-year, $57-million contract, as the Cardinals’ highest-paid players.

“I definitely left money on the table,” Morris said. “How much? Who knows, but I’ve always said in the past, ‘Why are these guys arguing over X amount of dollars?’ And then I got to that point in the negotiations where I was arguing about X amount of dollars. I’m sure if I had an agent, he’d be scratching at the door trying to get as much as he could, but that’s not the person I am and that’s not the relationship I want with the club either.”[8]

The Cardinals actually wanted to add a fourth year to the contract, but Morris, 27, chose to stick with three years.

“Three was my number,” he said. “For some reason, three was what I set in my head beforehand and that’s what I wanted to reach.”[9]

Whether it was three years or four, the Cardinals were simply happy to have Morris penciled into the top of a rotation that also included Darryl Kile, Andy Benes, Woody Williams, and Garrett Stephenson.

“The most important Cardinal transaction of the offseason? It wasn’t Mark McGwire retiring,” wrote Southern Illinoisan sports editor Rick Underwood. “It wasn’t getting Jason Isringhausen or Tino Martinez. The most important was locking up Matt Morris for three more years.”[10]

Morris proved more important than ever in 2002. With Kile’s untimely passing that June, Morris was the unquestioned ace of the staff, going 17-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 210 1/3 innings. That season, he was named an all-star for the second consecutive year. He won Game 1 of that season’s NLDS, allowing one earned run over seven innings to beat Randy Johnson.

From 2003 through 2005, Morris won 40 more games for the Cardinals. In 2004, he pitched four postseason games for St. Louis on its way to the World Series, but he went 0-2 with a 5.91 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. In the 2005 playoffs, he picked up an NLDS win against the Padres but lost to the Astros in the NLCS.

In December 2005, Morris signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Giants.

“I had a great run in St. Louis,” he said. “They’re a class organization and they treated me great throughout my years there. It just seemed like the right time to move on.”[11]

In two seasons in San Francisco, Morris battled injuries and went just 17-22 with a 4.73 ERA. At the 2007 trading deadline, the Cardinals thought they might be able to bring Morris back to St. Louis, but the Giants instead opted to deal Morris to the Pirates for center fielder Rajai Davis and pitcher Steve MacFarland.

Morris went 3-4 with a 6.10 ERA down the stretch for the Pirates. The following season, he lost four of his first five starts and was released with a 9.67 ERA. Three days later, at age 33, he announced his retirement.

“Mentally, I was not there,” he said. “My heart just kind of moved away from the game and once that happens, it’s hard to get it back.”[12]

Morris retired with 121 career wins. In eight seasons with the Cardinals, he went 101-62 with a 3.61 ERA.

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[1] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[4] Associated Press, “Cards confirm reaching agreement with Morris,” Belleville News-Democrat, January 5, 2002.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Sources say Morris gets 3-year deal at $29 million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 4, 2002.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Morris says Cards were fair in negotiations on contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 2002.

[10] Rick Underwood, “Saluki history lesson,” Southern Illinoisan, January 7, 2002.

[11] Joe Strauss, “It’s official: Morris joins the Giants,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 2005.

[12] Rick Hummel, “No more for Matty Mo,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 7, 2008.

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