The Tampa Bay Rays came to an agreement on a two-year, $30-million deal with right-hander Charlie Morton, pending a physical. The deal includes an option for up to $15-million in 2021 and assignment bonuses if Morton is traded, valued at $1-million in 2019 and $500-thousand in 2020.
The 35-year-old Morton really blossomed since coming to the Astros prior to the 2017 season. His new pitching philosophy allowed him to collect more strikeouts while also increase his velocity — his fastball velocity averaged 96 mph last season, but a key to his success with the Astros was the increased use of his curveball. The right-hander boasted a 10.4 K/9, and a 3.19 K/BB rate across 313-2/3 innings in an Astros uniform. He went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA in 2017 and 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA last season, posting career bests in wins, ERA, WHIP (1.16), and punchouts (201). The right-hander performed to a 6.3 fWAR over the last two seasons, as compared to a 7.8 fWAR over his previous nine seasons with the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies.
Like Nathan Eovaldi before him, Morton has a reputation for being a thoughtful pitcher who is a steadying, veteran presence in the clubhouse.
Houston didn’t issue a $17.9-million qualifying offer to Morton after the 2018 season but was said to be interested in bringing him back. He previously had given the impression that he could retire soon in order to spend time with his family in Delaware.
94 starting pitchers threw 200+ curveballs in 2018, their rankings in whiff rate:
1st – Blake Snell
3rd – Tyler Glasnow
5th – Charlie Morton
— Rob Silver (@RobSilver) December 12, 2018
Morton joins American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow as the three conventional hurlers in a rotation likely to include two opener spots(with Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, and Wilmer Font working behind them). Adding a veteran arm like Morton will cover innings and provide some extra cushion for the relief corps as it prepares for another significant workload. As Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) noted, Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon are expected to return from Tommy John surgery in June.
Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations, Erik Neander, wouldn’t address the Morton deal since it is not official, pending physical, although he did tell Topkin they are “still active” and the “doors are still open” for adding a hitter via trade or free agency — they still hope to do something.
Cruz watch 2018
The Rays are still in on Nelson Cruz, although Senior VP of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom told Topkin other options remained for a right-handed power bat.
We’ve advanced the ball a little bit on some fronts, Bloom said. Obviously this, more than any other time, at the winter meetings you have a lot of different possibilities. So when there are that many possibilities it’s hard to know exactly which one, if any, is going to get over the finish line. Some conversations progressed.
Cruz’s market took a potentially interesting twist with a report out of the Dominican Republic (where he lives), that said he’d narrowed his options to Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Per to Topkin, that would be a good sign for the Rays, as the Astros would probably be their toughest competition among the four reported suitors, the White Sox the other.