Will the Red Sox make a splash this offseason? Boston has financial flexibility and a strong desire to bounce back from a disappointing 2020. As such, we’ll examine whether several notable free agents make sense (or don’t make sense) as the club looks to retool for 2021 and beyond.
There’s no guarantee Charlie Morton pitches in 2021, as the 37-year-old right-hander has suggested retirement is a possibility.
He’s officially a free agent in wake of the Tampa Bay Rays declining his $15 million club option, though, and therefore must be considered among the top players available on the open market.
Morton has been one of Major League Baseball’s best starting pitchers since landing with the Houston Astros in 2017, even finishing third in American League Cy Young voting with Tampa Bay in 2019. And he tends to perform better when the stakes are raised, increasing his appeal to teams in need of short-term rotation help.
So, are the Boston Red Sox a viable suitor for Morton, a two-time All-Star? Let’s evaluate.
Position: Starting pitcher
Age: 37 (Nov. 12, 1983)
Weight: 215 pounds
9 appearances (9 starts)
2-2 record, 4.74 ERA, 42 strikeouts
1.40 WHIP, 3.45 FIP, 9.9 K/9
259 appearances (258 starts)
93-89 record, 4.08 ERA, 1,276 strikeouts
1.33 WHIP, 3.79 FIP, 8.0 K/9
Why Morton makes sense for Red Sox:
The Red Sox obviously need help in their rotation, even if Eduardo Rodriguez (myocarditis) and Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) both return to make significant contributions in 2021. Boston’s starting pitching ranked 25th in ERA (5.34), 29th in FIP (5.50), 29th in innings pitched (246) and 30th in fWAR (0.4).
Morton, meanwhile, has been excellent in recent years, ranking 18th in WHIP (1.14), 17th in ERA (3.24), 13th in FIP (3.26), 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (10.69) and 11th in fWAR (12.1) among all qualified starters from 2017 through 2019. His production dipped somewhat during the condensed 2020 season, but not precipitously, and his peripherals point to a pitcher who still has good mound work left in the tank.
Plus, there’s the postseason résumé, which ranks among the all-time best. Morton owns a 7-3 record and a 3.38 ERA in 13 career playoff appearances (12 starts), though even that tells only half the story.
Morton led the Astros to clinching wins over the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and World Series, respectively, in 2017, then defeated Houston twice with Tampa Bay in the 2020 ALCS, including Game 7.
He’s the perfect starter for a team in search of that missing piece, as he’s a proven veteran likely to require a commitment of no more than one or two years at a reasonable dollar amount. So, it’s unsurprising MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported last week, citing sources, that at least eight to 10 clubs already had expressed some level of interest in Morton.
The Red Sox obviously wouldn’t be signing Morton with the intention of him becoming a long-term rotation stalwart. Instead, he’d be asked to help the franchise return to contention in 2021, bridging the gap to the next great Boston team.
Why Morton doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
Morton might not want to pitch for the Red Sox, who are coming off a last-place finish in the AL East. While they presumably could compensate him fairly, maybe even offering in the ballpark of the $15 million club option the Rays chose not to exercise, the Red Sox figure to enter 2021 as underdogs. It’s hard to imagine that appealing to Morton at this stage of his career, especially since he’d be relocating from Florida after noting that geography would play a role in his decision.
From Boston’s perspective, Morton would be a solid addition in that he’d boost the rotation without hindering the organization’s long-term goal of building a sustainable contender. But it’s worth noting he dealt with a shoulder issue in 2020, on top of being long in the tooth.
One could argue the Red Sox are better off targeting long-term rotation solutions and/or evaluating in-house options. And if they opt to sign a veteran to a one- or two-year contract, there are cheaper alternatives, albeit without Morton’s track record.
Verdict: Not a fit (unless Morton wants to pitch in Boston).
Prediction: Morton signs a one-year contract with the Yankees that includes an option for 2022.