LOS ANGELES -- Launching their efforts to create financial room for rebuilding their roster in 2008, the Giants traded right-hander Matt Morris to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday for outfielder Rajai Davis and a player to be named later. The deal's most essential fact from the Giants' perspective is that Pittsburgh agreed to pay the remainder of the $13.5 million owed Morris through 2008, including a $1 million buyout for 2009. That's what made the Pirates a more attractive trade partner than Philadelphia or St. Louis, believed to be the two other teams pursuing Morris. In announcing the trade, Giants general manager Brian Sabean referred to management's stated intent to refresh the ballclub with fresh talent. Clearing payroll room was necessary to achieve that goal, since San Francisco has more than $54 million in salaries already committed for 2008 and a handful of players eligible for salary arbitration.
It was commonly accepted that the Giants would trade a member of their rotation, their strongest area, if they were to execute a deal before Tuesday's non-waiver deadline. Morris was the most expendable, since Barry Zito's contract and public-relations value made him untradeable and since the Giants were loathe to break up the young, talented and economically priced trio of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Noah Lowry. "To turn the page on the way we've been doing things, we are going to need as much flexibility as we can get next year," Sabean said. "Unfortunately, in that situation [Morris] became the odd man out. ... Our flexibility is that much greater today." After pitching like an All-Star candidate for much of the season, Morris was 0-4 with a 7.94 ERA in his final eight starts for the Giants, dropping his record to 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 21 starts. But Sabean indicated that Morris would be the one to go, regardless of his performance. 'When we decided to turn the page on how we've been doing things ... there had to be a new direction," Sabean said. "Maybe if he had pitched better, it would have been a different circumstance for him or the organization as far as the deal. But we pretty much knew what we had to do, especially from a flexibility standpoint." Sabean admitted that subtracting a pitcher might seem paradoxical, given the organization's reliance on pitching as part of its new approach. "If we go out into the market in any form at the end of the year and decide that positionally we can't upgrade, one of the things that we certainly will do is strengthen the pitching, which we've seen is really the best formula in this division," Sabean said. Morris, who signed a three-year contract on Dec. 12, 2005, expressed shock at being dealt to a non-contender, following weeks of speculation that a playoff-hungry team would acquire him to bolster its rotation. "I heard rumors all week about me being traded. Pittsburgh was never mentioned," Morris said on a conference call with reporters covering the Pirates. Morris, 32, may have sealed his fate last Thursday in Chicago when he implied that Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record was undermining the team concept. "I don't know what the goal is here, winning games or is it -- I don't even want to say it," Morris said after that game, in which Bonds homered twice. Sabean emphasized the speed of Davis, 26, who has stolen more than 40 bases in each of his previous four Minor League seasons. Like outfielder Fred Lewis, who excelled in football before committing professionally to baseball, Davis' first love was another sport -- basketball, as he was an aspiring point guard while growing up in New London, Conn. Davis made his Major League debut last year after spending five seasons in the Minors and hit .143 in 20 games with the Pirates. Recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on June 5, Davis was batting .271 (13-for-48) with two doubles, two RBIs and five steals in 24 games (12 starts) for Pittsburgh, including .409 (9-for-22) in his last 13 games. Before being recalled, the right-handed batter hit .318 with 31 runs, 12 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 30 RBIs in 53 games for Indianapolis. Davis finished his Triple-A stint with a 21-game hitting streak. Insiders describe Davis as a diligent worker who lacks polish defensively. He's expected to join the Giants on Wednesday and might even start against Dodgers left-hander Mark Hendrickson, manager Bruce Bochy said. Davis' stay could be brief, however, since the Giants will need to drop a player from the active Major League roster to replace Morris in the rotation. Patrick Misch is a leading candidate to start Saturday, which would have been Morris' next turn.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.