'I love it here': Morton thrilled with new deal

September 7th, 2021

ATLANTA -- As spent the past month debating whether to continue pitching beyond this season, the Braves influenced his decision with a very generous financial offer. But the 37-year-old hurler’s decision to delay retirement for at least a year had more to do with how well he currently feels.

“I think it was getting more to a point where I was confident in where I was physically and mentally,” Morton said. “I feel like I fit well in this clubhouse. I want to contribute and I want to be part of this team. That’s really the deciding factor. The dollar amounts, I just don’t think that was an issue.”

Twenty years after being selected by the Braves in the third round of the 2002 MLB Draft, Morton will remain a Brave, courtesy of the one-year, $20 million contract he signed on Monday. The deal includes a $20 million option for the 2023 season.

This is something Morton could have never envisioned when he went to his first Spring Training back in 2003, with the likes of Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur. It was also something Morton wasn’t imagining after he was traded to the Pirates and posted a 4.39 ERA over seven seasons (2009-15). Heck, he wasn’t even confident this might happen when he exited the All-Star break with thoughts about retiring.

But as Morton spent the past few months re-establishing himself as one of the game’s elite starters, he came to the realization he would definitely look forward to at least one more season of pitching. The Braves first approached him about an extension in July.

“It was getting hard for me to look at next year and think I wasn’t going to play,” Morton said. “And I love it here. The group here has been awesome.”

The Braves extended their relationship with Morton just a couple of weeks after re-signing veteran catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a two-year, $16 million deal. They still have re-signing Freddie Freeman on their to-do list. But these extensions have at least given Freeman further reason to believe the team has a chance to be a World Series contender again next year.

“This is a very attractive situation right here, from the ballpark to the city, the team, the organization and history here,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “There’s a lot to like and lot to want to be a part of. I think it’s great we were able to bring back Travis and Charlie.”

As things currently stand, the Braves’ projected 2022 rotation would include Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa. Touki Toussaint, Kyle Muller and Kyle Wright would be top candidates for the final spot. Mike Soroka’s bid to return from a second Achilles surgery will keep him sidelined until at least the second half of next season.

Morton has gone 13-5 with a 3.47 ERA in 28 starts this season. He has re-established himself as one of the game’s top starters while producing a 2.74 ERA and limiting opponents to a .178 batting average over his past 15 starts dating back to June 17. His batting average allowed ranks first and his ERA ranks sixth among National League pitchers within that span.

With this success over the past few months, the Braves have gained significant value from the one-year, $15 million contract Morton signed in November. The veteran hurler exited the 2020 season having expressed a desire to continue playing for the Rays and remain close to his family residence, which is located between St. Petersburg and Sarasota, but Atlanta’s deal easily trumped Tampa Bay’s top offer.

Morton finished third in American League Cy Young voting after producing a 3.05 ERA for the Rays in 2019. Injuries played a part in the 4.74 ERA he posted for the Rays in 2020.

Less than a year later, Morton’s decided to stay with the Braves before having to go through the free agent process again.

“It really did take me a while to decide, because it’s a decision that involves more than just me,” Morton said. “But I’m extremely appreciative. The Braves have been nothing but great. I’m excited.”