On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays chose not to exercise the club options on right-handed-hurler Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino. Morton’s option was valued at $15-million, while Zunino stood to make $4.5-million if his option was to be exercised. Both are now free agents.
Charlie Morton “wasn’t surprised” that Tampa Bay declined to exercise the club option, given the lack of certainty in the midst of the pandemic, however, the team’s Senior VP/GM Erik Neander left the door open for Morton — as well as Zunino — to be part of the 2021 club. The veteran right-hander told the Tampa Bay Times that the team’s decision doesn’t mean they won’t try to work something out.
If there’s mutual interest, the next step is gauging what that looks like.— Charlie Morton
Neander noted the Rays’ desire to bring Morton back for a third season, and that they are looking for a “creative” way to keep him in the fold, including an incentive-laden deal. Per Neil Solondz (Rays Radio), Neander didn’t want to be too revealing about the conversation with Morton and said they didn’t get into too many specifics.
If he still wants to play next year and things line up in a way where it could be here and he sees it that way, we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen and to be as creative and supportive to his considerations and needs and what’s most important to him and his family as we can be.
…Charlie’s been very open about the uncertainty in his future and where he’s at. Frankly, felt it’s best to let him catch his breath, let him process, let him make some decisions with his family and to have those conversations but to give this a little more time to play out and see where things go. Would love nothing more than to have Charlie back and to have him part of our club next year and we’ll have a little more time to do that, it won’t be by way of picking up the option itself.— Erik Neander
Morton is now one of the best pitchers on the free-agent market, although it is uncertain how much interest he will have exploring deals with other teams. He makes his home in Bradenton, a key point in his decision to sign with Tampa Bay after the 2018 season. During the postseason, Morton said he would discuss the possibility of retirement with his family if Tampa Bay declined his option, although if what is written above speaks to anything, he wants to continue his career with Tampa Bay.
During a Zoom call with the media, Neander also made mention of Morton and Zunino’s impact on the roster over the past two seasons in a number of ways.
He’s wonderful. And made sure he knew just how much we appreciated not only his on-field contributions the last two years, but everything he did to advance our group culturally, his leadership and guidance for pitchers, second to none.
…The intangible benefits of him for this staff, and the work he did behind the plate were a huge reason for our success as well, and another nice conversation and a door that’s going to stay open.— Erik Neander
With a roster deadline looming to reinstate players currently on the 60-day Injured List, the Rays also made a variety of moves on Friday which will clear room on the 40-man. Tampa Bay lost catcher Michael Perez on waivers to the Pirates, as well as right-handers Andrew Kittredge and Chaz Roe, and catcher Kevan Smith — all of whom became free agents after clearing waivers.
It would appear the Rays are set to completely revamp their catching mix this offseason.
With the seven moves (including Aaron Loup becoming a free agent) the Rays now have 35 players on the 40-man roster.
Yet, as Solondz notes, Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Colin Poche, and Cody Reed, all on the 60-day injured list, need to come off that list and be formally added on Sunday.
To that end, the Rays are expected to add prospects OF Josh Lowe and INF Taylor Walls to the 40-man roster by the November 20th deadline (so they won’t be exposed to the Rule 5 draft), so they will need to make another move in the near future to make room for both.