Rays, veteran righty Charlie Morton agree to two-year, $30 million deal
The Rays will have one fewer bullpen day next season
Although they found success with the opener this past season, the Tampa Bay Rays couldn't resist adding a starting pitcher this offseason. The club has agreed to a two-year contract with free agent righty Charlie Morton. The deal is worth $30 million. The contract includes a club option for the 2021 season.
Morton, 35, spent the last two seasons with the Astros and, earlier this year, he mentioned he was considering retirement after the season. He reconsidered and announced after the ALCS that he'd either like to return to Houston or move closer to his home on the East Coast in 2019. The East Coast it is. It's unclear whether the Astros made an effort to retain him.
This past season Morton threw 167 innings, the second highest total of his career, and posted a 3.13 ERA with 201 strikeouts. He missed time with shoulder trouble late in the season and didn't look especially good in September or during the ALCS, though the Rays surely scrutinized his medicals. Morton has had a lot of injury issues over the years.
With Morton on board, Tampa Bay's rotation depth chart looks something like this:
- LHP Blake Snell
- RHP Charlie Morton
- RHP Tyler Glasnow
- RHP Wilmer Font
- LHP Ryan Yarbrough
- RHP Yonny Chirinos
- LHP Jalen Beeks
Of course, it is unlikely the Rays will use a traditional five-man rotation. Snell, the reigning AL Cy Young award winner, is a lock to be in the rotation along with Morton and Glasnow. The Rays could use openers and bullpen days in the final two rotation spots given how successful the strategy was this past season.
"I think right now we're discussing internally whether we do it two times through the rotation or three times through the rotation," manager Kevin Cash said when asked about the team's bullpenning strategy earlier this week. "But the nice thing is we've got all that information last year and we have a bunch of candidates that we can fill in as a traditional starter if need be. Yonny Chirinos, Yarbs, Wilmer Font, Jalen Beeks, all those guys have starting experience. If we put the flexibility of putting them back in that traditional role a time or two, we can do that."
Not counting Nathan Eovaldi, who was a low-cost lottery signing as he rehabbed from his second career Tommy John surgery, Morton is the first free agent starting pitcher the Rays have signed to a guaranteed major league contract since giving Roberto Hernandez a one-year deal worth $3.25 million in 2013. Morton's $15 million average annual salary makes him one of the highest paid players in Rays history.
Tampa Bay came into the offseason with only $30 million or so on the books for next season, and reports indicated they were willing to spend big on a short-term addition this winter. Morton and his two-year contract fit. The Rays have also been connected to slugger Nelson Cruz. It's unclear whether the Morton signing takes them out of the running for Cruz, however.
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