Veteran righty Charlie Morton is someone the New York Yankees could consider as they again seek to improve their pitching.
Charlie Morton is proving to be quite the option on this year’s MLB free agency market.
It’s an interesting position to be in for the soon-to-be 37-year-old. Morton spent the last two seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, but posted a less than ideal 4.74 ERA in nine starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Still, he overcame shoulder trouble to finish the season and even pitched to a 2.70 ERA in the playoffs.
Now, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, a small handful of teams have checked in on Morton. Additionally, Feinsand added, Morton “is believed” to want only a one-year deal, possibly with an option attached.
Simply put, the New York Yankees need to at least check in with Charlie Morton and his management. The pitching staff behind ace Gerrit Cole is iffy enough that adding a veteran arm won’t hurt, especially on a short-term deal.
But the million-dollar question remains: Should New York actually commit money to Morton? Let’s look at the facts and find the answer.
A late bloomer
It wasn’t until recently that Charlie Morton became something of a household name. He spent nine years as a back-end rotation arm with three different teams before joining the Houston Astros in 2017. Prior to arriving in Houston, Morton stumbled to a 4.54 career ERA with 6.3 K/9 and relied upon his sinker heavily.
But since joining the Astros four seasons ago, Morton has looked like a completely different pitcher. This is because starting with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016, he started throwing harder. Per Fangraphs, his average fastball velocity that year was at 94.3 mph. In all of his pro seasons leading up to that, he averaged 91.5 mph on his fastball.
To say this new approach worked would be an understatement. In the last four seasons, Morton has pitched to a 3.34 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP and been named to two All-Star teams. His K/9 jumped to 10.6, and he finished third in AL Cy Young voting in 2019. Morton also won a World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017.
And speaking of the World Series, did I mention he has a 3.38 postseason ERA?
Why the Yankees?
It hasn’t been mentioned much, but Charlie Morton isn’t just a good fit for the New York Yankees on paper. He was born in western New Jersey and grew up in Connecticut. Moreover, as Abbey Mastracco of NJ.com wrote in 2017, the veteran righty grew up a Yankees fan and listed Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens as two of his favorite players.
This is the story fans love to hear. A former local hero goes on to big league success, and then comes to the home team for the twilight of his career. Granted, Morton now lives right outside Tampa in Bradenton, Florida, but the Yankees have ties to the area. The team holds spring training in Tampa, so Morton could just stay with his family during this time instead of renting a place or staying in a hotel as some of his teammates might.
On top of that, the Yankees need rotation help. Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and maybe Deivi Garcia are the only locks for 2021. Masahiro Tanaka could re-sign in free agency, but he won’t be cheap and owner Hal Steinbrenner has been open about New York’s financial losses during the pandemic. Luis Severino also won’t be back from Tommy John surgery until the summer.
Enter Charlie Morton, who the Yankees can certainly sign to a one-year deal, let’s say around $10 million. It’s far less than the two-year, $30 million contract he had with the Rays, but Morton is almost 37. Good as he’s been these last few years, he probably doesn’t have many miles left on his arm.
It might take adding an option for 2022, but the New York Yankees should absolutely have Morton on their radar this offseason.
This MLB offseason is already set to be far different than any in baseball history. A myriad number of good players have already had their options declined as teams seek to cut costs across the board. Anyone expecting Mookie Betts or Bryce Harper-level contracts this offseason might be disappointed.
And when it comes to the New York Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman should absolutely sign Charlie Morton. His curveball is one of the best in baseball, spinning and dancing away from opposing bats with hypnotic grace reminiscent of the Silver Surfer. Morton also provides a strong veteran presence in the rotation if Tanaka signs elsewhere.
Furthermore, even if Tanaka does stay in New York and the rotation gets crowded, having Morton around isn’t an issue. If he only signs a one-year deal with or without an option, and things aren’t working out, he’s all the easier to move in a trade if need be.
That said, should the New York Yankees make Charlie Morton a priority this offseason? Honestly, the answer is probably not. Masahiro Tanaka and DJ LeMahieu are and should be Cashman’s top priorities.
But at a minimum, the Yankees need to reach out to Morton and take the temperature on his interest in coming to New York. Even if he isn’t their first choice, he’s a good name to have on the backburner in case negotiations with Tanaka fall through. Given the state of the rotation, the Yankees need to keep their options open.
That means reaching out to Charlie Morton, who can still be effective in the regular season and playoffs despite his age. Otherwise, the team would only be cheating itself by putting all of its eggs in the Tanaka basket.
Cashman, your move.