Morris not returning to Cardinals

Morris not returning to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Matt Morris, who has won more games for the current Cardinals regime than any other pitcher, is headed elsewhere.

Morris told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday that he will not return for a 10th season wearing the "birds on the bat." He did not tell the paper where he will be headed, but multiple reports on Sunday indicated that he is on the verge of accepting a three-year contract with the San Francisco Giants.

With 101 wins over eight seasons (he missed a year because of elbow surgery), Morris was the dean of not only the Cards' pitching staff but, in fact, of the team as a whole. He had the longest tenure of any player on the 2005 Cards. He made his debut in 1997, the second season for the current ownership, manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

"My whole career has been there, and it's been a blast with the fans and all that's happened there," Morris told the paper. "But as time went on, it's been a little easier to see which path I was going to take, and now we'll see which exact path I'm going to be on."

The Cardinals reportedly offered Morris a two-year deal with an option for a third season, at a lower average annual salary than what he will likely receive with another team. The reported offer is similar to that signed by Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter early in the season but well short of the four-year deal worth nearly $10 million per year that St. Louis offered to free agent A.J. Burnett before Burnett signed with Toronto. Should Morris sign with San Francisco, he would be reunited with friend and longtime teammate Mike Matheny, as well as several other former Cardinals.

Morris went 101-62 in 237 appearances for St. Louis, making 206 starts. He has a lifetime ERA of 3.61, with 986 strikeouts in 1,377 1/3 innings. The 31-year-old righty had a career year in 2001, going 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA and finishing third in Cy Young balloting. He battled shoulder troubles during 2004 and had offseason surgery before posting a 14-10 season with a 4.11 ERA in 2005.

Rookie Anthony Reyes is expected to take Morris' spot in the starting rotation. Reyes, 24, is rated the organization's top prospect, and he picked up a win with a fine start against Milwaukee in his Major League debut. The rest of the Cardinals rotation is expected to remain intact, with Carpenter, Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan under contract and Jason Marquis unsigned but still under the team's control for 2006.

Morris joins an exodus of free agents leaving St. Louis this winter. Larry Walker and Cal Eldred have retired, John Mabry and Abraham Nunez signed elsewhere, and the Cardinals declined to offer arbitration to Julian Tavarez, Mark Grudzielanek and Reggie Sanders.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.