Braves: Charlie Morton’s contract now looks like a bargain

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When the Braves re-signed Charlie Morton in the middle of a season in which he was performing at the worst level since his 2015 campaign, it wasn’t met with many compliments from the fan base. I was admittedly a bit skeptical myself at first, but this offseason has shown us why it was a no-brainer for Alex Anthopoulos and company.

For years, the price of starting pitching has continued to climb, and it’s reaching its peak this offseason. We saw deGrom land a five-year, $185 million contract, which was followed quickly by Justin Verlander signing a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets.

Nobody was caught off guard by those signings. Verlander and deGrom are two of the best starting arms in the game. They were always going to command $40+ million annually. What many people might not have expected is for the lesser guys — like Taijuan Walker — to earn four-year contracts worth over $70 million in total, which is what he signed yesterday with the Phillies.

Now, Walker is a quality pitcher. He’s coming off arguably his best season, in which he posted a 12-5 record with a 3.49 ERA, but let’s not act for a second that he has the upside of a pitcher like Morton.

Walker isn’t the only slightly above average arm fetching the bag this offseason, either. Jameson Taillon, who has a 4.09 ERA since 2019, inked a four-year, $68 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.

Morton may be coming off an underwhelming campaign and approaching 40-years-old, but that doesn’t paint the entire picture. He entered this past season coming off a broken fibula. Things don’t always heal as quickly when a player is in his late 30s, and it didn’t help that he was forced to be away from the Braves team doctors because of the MLB lockout. I’m not saying that’s 100% why Morton began the 2022 season terribly, but it makes sense when looking at how he ended the year.

Over his final 20 starts, Morton recorded a 3.75 ERA — not quite where he’s been at in previous years, but he also struck out 151 batters over 117.2 innings. The stuff that made him one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last five seasons is still apparent, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a fantastic locker room presence as well.

There is some risk for the Braves with this deal. Perhaps Morton falls off a cliff as a 39-year-old, but there’s risk when signing any free agent pitcher, and a one-year deal mitigates most of those concerns. Given the Braves likely didn’t want to involve themselves in the current spending spree that is taking place when it comes to starting arms, the move to take care of this before the end of the season is looking more brilliant by the day.

Photo: John Adams/Icon Sportswire

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