Charlie Morton is a free agent. On the list of things that don’t make sense baseball-wise in 2020, this has to rank up near the top. Sure, everyone was shocked when the Indians non-tendered Brad Hand. But Hand was a reliever. Morton is a good starting pitcher, one with a noted playoff performance history. Guys like this don’t grow on trees. Yet the Rays cut him loose rather than picking up his $15 million option.
There are a few things that we have to note. First is that Morton is old, as he’ll turn 37 later this month. And his former team, the AL champion Rays, are known for pinching pennies even when the cash is rolling in. Typically, it’s not a big story when the Rays part ways with a veteran – it’s what they do. Finally, Morton has hinted at retirement and likely had little or no trade value due to this.
But if Morton isn’t set in stone on playing in Tampa or retiring, then the Mets should absolutely be interested in him.
The Mets have already extended the Qualifying Offer to Marcus Stroman and have been consistently mentioned by national writers as one of the clubs likely to be in on Trevor Bauer, considered the top starter in free agency. But even if Stroman takes the QO and Bauer goes to the Mets, the club should still be interested in Morton.
Right now, the staff is Jacob deGrom and a lot of question marks. David Peterson had terrific results after starting 2020 as a depth starter at the alternate site. But his peripherals paint a much different picture than his results, making it hard to consider him more than a low-end SP4. Seth Lugo was finally given a chance to start and while not much was proven in his seven outings, it’s not hard to imagine the Mets preferring to utilize him out of the pen. And who knows when Noah Syndergaard will be back on the Citi Field mound.
The question has been if the club should be in the market for two or three starting pitchers this offseason. A hurler with the quality of Morton being available definitely moves the needle towards getting three. And while you always have to be wary of a pitcher at that age, it might work out in favor of the Mets. It’s hard to imagine any club giving Morton more than two years and it’s just as likely to be a one-year contract.
In his last full season in 2019, Morton posted a 6.1 fWAR. This past year he was sidelined for three weeks due to shoulder inflammation and only made nine starts. Still, he posted a 0.9 fWAR when he was healthy. Morton made five starts in September and had an ERA over a full run better than his mark before hitting the IL. Then he made four starts in the playoffs, allowing 6 ER in 20 IP, good for a 2.70 ERA.
Perhaps he’s never 2019 good ever again. But the pitcher he was the last nine starts of 2020 is just fine, thank you. In that span, Morton had a 3.48 ERA with 11 BB and 48 Ks in 41.1 IP. And that’s with facing the Yankees twice, the Astros twice and the Dodgers. It’s not a Bauer season where nine of the 12 teams he faced were below .500 for the year.
It’s tantalizing to think of a rotation of deGrom, Bauer, Stroman, Morton and Peterson. After starting pitching torpedoed the 2020 campaign, that would be a nice quintet to start the regular season. It has the added benefit of not counting on anything from Syndergaard. Morton would be a nice pickup if the Mets were to get him at the salary the Rays declined. And it’s not impossible he’d be available for even fewer dollars than that given the uncertainty of the Covid offseason.
Maybe it’s nothing but champagne dreams to imagine the Mets ending up with three free agent hurlers. It’s still nice that another quality starting pitcher is now on the market. This ups the odds that the Mets don’t have to end up counting on someone like Michael Wacha to provide crucial innings for the club. So, put Morton on your list of pitchers the Mets should target during the hot stove season.