The Atlanta Braves have come to terms with free agent starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, on a one-year $15 million deal, as first reported by Mark Feinsand.
Morton spent the last two seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, who declined a $15 million dollar team option which would have kept the veteran in St. Petersburg for the 2021 season.
Morton provided significant value during his tenure with the Rays, posting a record of 18-8 with a 3.33 ERA, finishing third in American League Cy Young voting in 2019. Deeper analytic metrics also supported Morton’s success as he put up a FIP of 2.92 along with an ERA+ of 133, and also suppressed home runs at an elite rate.
Morton will join a starting pitching staff in Atlanta that will look very different from the 2020 version. In addition to Morton, the rotation will also certainly feature budding ace Max Fried, rookie sensation Ian Anderson, and the newly signed Drew Smyly. All-Star Mike Soroka should be due to make his return from Achilles surgery at some point early in the season–with Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson providing Atlanta with depth to the back end of their rotation, which they desperately lacked a year ago.
It should come as no surprise that general manager Alex Anthopoulos showed an interest in the 37-year old Morton–the two-time All-Star began his career with Atlanta in 2008 before being traded to Pittsburgh, and the right-hander expressed a clear desire to remain close to family in Florida.
Beyond these ties, Morton also has a skill set that Anthopoulos has coveted in the past. The Braves have built their pitching staff in recent years with an obvious focus on home run suppression. Atlanta ranked 5th in baseball last year allowing just 1.18 HR/9, while running out nine different pitchers who allowed under 1.0 HR/9 (min 15 innings). This has become a blueprint for Atlanta pitching in recent years, as they have ranked 3rd, 8th, and 5th in HR/9 across the majors under Anthopoulos’ watch.
Over Morton’s 13-year career, he has limited opposing offenses to just 0.8 HR/9. Now in the twilight of his career, this is still an apparent strength of his–he posted just 0.7 HR/9 in his two seasons with the Rays, all while facing the challenge of pitching in the American League East.
Potential Braves Rotation (Career HR/9)
- Mike Soroka (0.6)
- Max Fried (0.9)
- Charlie Morton (0.8)
- Ian Anderson (0.3)
- Drew Smyly (1.4)
Anthopoulos has been aggressive this offseason while shoring up Atlanta’s starting pitching, in hopes to make an even deeper playoff run next fall, by signing left-hander Drew Smyly and Morton. Although Morton had an uneven 2020 regular season–spending time on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation–he bounced back strongly in the postseason while helping lead the Rays to the World Series. The right-hander posted a 23:5 K/BB ratio in 20 postseason innings–allowing just one home run and a strong ERA of 2.70.
Look for Morton to provide the Braves with an immediate impact, thanks both to his skill set on the mound and the veteran presence he brings to a talented young rotation, as he joins a dangerous team poised for another breakthrough of October success.