Before the pandemic decided to wreak havoc on the entire world, things were relatively normal as Charlie Morton and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays prepared for the 2020 baseball season.
Charlie Morton was coming off a phenomenal season in 2019 in which he finished third in the American League Cy Young award voting. His exceptional season was more than the Rays could have hoped for after giving Morton the largest free agent contract in the franchise’s history.
Morton became a fan favorite, a clubhouse leader, and single handedly delivered the Rays a win in Game 7 of the 2020 ALCS.
A month later, and he’s signing a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves. How did this happen? How did we get here?
We have collected all of Charlie Morton’s statements on his desire to pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays. You decide.
September 29th, 2017
Charlie Morton snagged a World Series ring in 2017. Prior to that World Series victory, though, Morton spoke with Jon Morosi about the possibility of retiring, saying that “I don’t really want to play that much longer.”
Charlie Morton told me recently he may not pitch beyond 2018. He explained why with great eloquence. @astros @MLB pic.twitter.com/4rWvU9H5G1— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) September 29, 2017
Morton held off on retiring, instead choosing to sign a two year, $30M contract with a $15M option for a third season in 2021 with the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that is located near his home and family in Florida.
The third year option was negotiated to decrease in value with days spent on the Injured List.
March 12, 2019
As he entered his first spring training with the Rays in 2019, Morton told reporters that he was fully expecting to retire following his contract expiring with the Rays.
“I was worried about how I was holding up physically, really. And I feel good,” Morton said. “I was throwing well last year, and that’s why, going into this offseason, I was like, ‘Well, yeah, I’m gonna play. I’m gonna keep playing.’ I didn’t want to retire. But this will be it.”
He would finish third in the AL Cy Young voting that season.
February 11th, 2020
Despite his excellent year and the potential option in 2021, Charlie Morton was mulling over retirement as he entered spring training of 2020:
“I don’t know. If I throw really well and I feel really good, it’s going to be a tough decision. But if either one of those things happen, where I’m not pitching really well, or I’m not healthy, then, yeah, I’m not going to play.’’
Then the world ended; at least as we knew it.
As the coronavirus began to take its toll on the planet, the sports world went on hiatus for several months. Prior to baseball re-starting, Morton re-negotiated his third year option with the Rays, but the details were not made public.
Baseball wouldn’t return until late July and the effects of the long layoff would certainly have an effect on many of the game’s top arms. Charlie Morton in particular would show evidence of his own fatigue as he displayed diminished velocity.
August 10th, 2020
Eventually, Morton wound up on the Injured List with right shoulder inflammation and endured a three week long stint on the shelf. Upon his return, Morton’s velocity was back up to where it had been during the 2019 season, but it was unknown if this impacted his third year option.
After the Rays finished the season with the best record in the American League, they painstakingly crawled their way through the postseason with Morton making a trio of stellar appearances for the team along the way.
During game seven of the ALCS, Morton would have one of the best performances of his career and in Rays franchise history. Morton held the Houston Astros in check over 5 2⁄3 innings pitched before giving way to Nick Anderson (it worked that time, it didn’t work the next time). During Morton’s performance, he struck out six Astros, walked one, and allowed just two hits. The Rays won the pennant on his shoulders.
October 22nd, 2020
Morton pitched once in the World Series, and was lined up to be the game seven starter. Meanwhile, Morton had a decision to make re: retirement. During the game six pregame press conference, Morton spoke with the media about his impending situation.
“[This team] cares about each other every single day. If a team like that wants me back next year, I would be completely honored and privileged to continue to play. Needless to say, we live 40-something miles away from the Trop. Being out here in the bubble, I’ve grown to appreciate my situation even more with the Rays.”
It seemed Morton’s mind was pretty made up. He wanted to remain with the Tampa Bay Rays.
October 31st, 2020
Once the Rays were eliminated and the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their World Series victory, the Rays had a decision to make regarding the veteran Morton’s option.
Morton would be turning 37 this month and did spend some time on the Injured List. Perhaps his momentarily diminished velocity and lack of strikeouts year over year led to some concerns, and with a potential $15M price tag for the 2021 season, the Rays thought they’d be able to re-negotiate another year for Morton, even if that exposed him to the open market, perhaps with payments offset to later years.
Previously - Rays Analysis: Charlie Morton’s Option
Either way, the Rays let Morton walk, declining his option.
November 9th, 2020
The team’s desire to penny pinch the veteran postseason star has been laid bare, with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reporting that the Rays are only willing to go up to $10M for Morton’s services next season, which is barely more than what Robbie Ray received as one of the off-season’s early signees.
A report from Mark Feinsand of MLB.com shortly after indicated several teams (up to 10!) were already lining up to employ the services of Morton. The market is predicted to move fast for the services of Morton, with him possibly making a decision soon:
Just as Ray’s deal with Toronto was consummated quickly, there’s a sense that Morton could be one of the few free agents to sign on the early side.
“My sense is he will make a decision based on several factors, but not a highest-bidder type at this point of his career,” a second AL executive said. “Because of that, it could move quickly.”
November 24th, 2020
News broke Charlie Morton will sign with the Atlanta Braves for one-year, $15 million.