Morton agreed Tuesday with the Braves on a one-year, $15 million contract, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports. As the 37-year-old prepares for what could be his final season in the big leagues, he'll return to the organization that originally drafted him back in 2002. While Morton never found success at the MLB level during his time in Atlanta, he's quietly emerged as one of baseball's more reliable starters over the back nine of his career, submitting sub-4.00 ERAs and sub-1.20 WHIPs in three of the past four seasons. While missing time with a shoulder injury in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Morton finished with a 4.74 ERA and 1.39 WHIP across 38 innings, but the underlying peripherals (18.8 K-BB%, 0.9 HR/9, 3.89 xERA) were generally encouraging. After having his $15 million club option declined by the Rays earlier this offseason, Morton will end up taking home the same payday while he moves on to Atlanta.
Morton's team option was declined by the Rays on Friday, Juan Toribio of MLB.com reports. Morton's option would have paid him $15 million. While the Rays are famously hesitant to spend, and while the pandemic is expected to suppress wages this offseason, that's still seemingly quite a good price for a pitcher who has posted a 3.34 ERA over the last four years, so the decision is something of an odd one. Morton will turn 37 in November, and he did post a 4.74 ERA in nine regular-season starts in 2020, though his 3.45 FIP indicated that was likely a small-sample blip, and he bounced back with a 2.70 ERA in four playoff starts. It's conceivable that this transaction foreshadows a retirement for the veteran righty, though no such decision has been announced by the team or the player.
Morton allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out six across 4.1 innings to take the loss against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday. Morton never settled into the start after allowing a solo home run to Justin Turner in the first inning. He then surrendered a pair of runs in both the third and fourth frames, with the final result being a short and subpar outing. Other than this effort, Morton has been excellent in the postseason, maintaining a 2.70 ERA with a 23:5 K:BB across 20 frames.
Morton threw 5.2 shutout innings to pick up the win in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Astros on Saturday, striking out six while allowing just two hits and one walk. Morton was dominant against his former team, not allowing a single runner to reach scoring position until there were two outs in the sixth inning. He's built up quite an impressive postseason resume in recent years, earning victories in Game 7 of both the ALCS and World Series as a member of the Astros in 2017 as well as a wild-card win with the Rays last season. He's now the first pitcher with four career wins in winner-take-all postseason games.
Morton picked up the win in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Astros on Monday, striking out five while walking one and allowing five hits in five shutout innings. It took Morton 96 pitches to get through five innings against his former team, though the Rays don't seem to mind trusting their deep bullpen with quite a few innings most nights. The veteran righty didn't retire the side in order until his fifth and final frame, though he only once allowed a runner to reach scoring position with less than two outs. Morton likely lines up to start Game 7, should the series go that far.