Alex Anthopoulos has been tabbed the king of the one-year deal, and rightfully so.
A couple of offseasons ago, he inked one of the best third basemen in the game — Josh Donaldson — to a one-year, $21 million contract. Then, after The Bringer of Rain thrived in Atlanta, Anthopoulos passed on giving him a multi-year deal in favor of Marcell Ozuna, who he was able to sign for one-year, $18 million. Obviously, we know now that Ozuna will be with the Braves much longer than that after signing a four-year contract last week, but that doesn’t mean Anthopoulos has stopped his strategy of handing out one-year deals. This offseason, it was Charlie Morton. The 13-year veteran could provide just as much of a boost as Donaldson and Ozuna did on their respective one-year contracts.
For whatever reason — perhaps it’s because the signing happened so early in the offseason, or maybe it is because Braves fans are still suffering from buyer’s remorse after the Cole Hamels fiasco last year — the Charlie Morton signing isn’t getting as much love as it should. The former Braves farmhand has experienced one of the most incredible upticks in production in his mid-30s, beginning in 2017 when he signed with the Houston Astros.
That year, Morton went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA, and he was critical in Houston’s playoff run, even recording the final out of the World Series in Game 7 against the Dodgers. He then proved that it was no fluke over the next two seasons, making back-to-back All-Star appearances and going a combined 31-9 with a 3.09 ERA and 441 strikeouts in 361.2 innings. In his last full season (2019), Morton set career-bests in ERA, innings pitched, and K/9 while also leading the majors in homers allowed per nine innings (0.7).
On top of elite production over his last three full seasons, Morton provides something that Atlanta’s extremely talented rotation lacks — experience. Here’s an excerpt from Jayson Stark’s latest piece for The Athletic:
“I think it’s important to have someone who has that type of experience,” Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos told us this winter. “I still think there’s value in that in this day and age. I still remember, when I was in Toronto, hearing Roy Halladay talk about the impact Pat Hentgen had on him as a young pitcher. I remember Hentgen talking about the impact Jack Morris and Roger Clemens had on him when he pitched. … I just think those lessons that older players can teach younger players is a real thing.”
Stark also brought up a table of the best active starters since their age-33 seasons. Morton is fourth on the list, behind only Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander. That’s some pretty good company.
2020 wasn’t the best year for Morton, and maybe that’s another reason why there isn’t as much hype surrounding him as there should be. There’s nothing sexy about his 4.74 ERA when glancing at his Baseball-Reference page. However, that was over a minuscule sample size of just 38 innings, thanks to a minor shoulder injury. Plus, his FIP of 3.45 is more than respectable, and he was ultra-reliable in the playoffs outside of one poor outing against the Dodgers. Before that, in three starts against the Yankees and Astros — two extremely potent lineups — Morton went 3-0, allowing just one run over 15.2 innings.
Sure, Morton maybe 37 and coming off a sub-par year for his standards, but he really hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. If anything, he’s only gotten better with age. Considering he will be asked to replace the combined value of guys like Cole Hamels, Tommy Milone, and Robbie Erlin — who were virtually useless — this could turn out to be even more of a winning move than signing Ozuna was last offseason. Having him as potentially the fourth option in the rotation puts Atlanta’s starting pitching up there with the best in baseball and will have the Braves much more prepared for when the playoffs arrive in 2021.