Trevor Bauer is unquestionably the top pitcher available on the free-agent market, but he may not be the one drawing the most attention in the early days of the offseason.
According to sources, at least eight to 10 teams have already expressed some level of interest in Charlie Morton, who became a free agent on Oct. 30 when the Rays declined his $15 million option for 2021.
Morton, who turns 37 on Thursday, is believed to be seeking a one-year contract, possibly with an option for 2022.
A return to the Rays appears to be Morton's first choice, though industry insiders believe Tampa Bay is unlikely to offer more than $10 million. That could open the door for other teams to swoop in -- namely the Mets and Yankees, two of the many clubs in need of rotation help.
"If he's willing to leave Tampa [Bay], there should be a good market for him on a short deal," an American League executive said.
Robbie Ray -- who had a 6.62 ERA with the D-backs and Blue Jays in 2020 -- signed a one-year, $8 million pact with Toronto on Saturday, a deal that should help other free-agent pitchers such as Morton, Mike Minor and James Paxton among others.
"If Robbie Ray is worth $8 million coming off of the season he had, Morton should get considerably more," one National League executive said.
Another NL executive sees Morton and the Rays as the obvious fit, but the pitcher's desire for a short-term deal could make him appealing to a number of pitching-starved teams. Should those teams top Tampa Bay's offer by a significant margin, Morton would be faced with a tough decision.
"He's taken the kind of contracts that could fit with a lot of teams in this year's weird situation," the second NL executive said. "I think his willingness to take shorter deals and his desire to be with winning clubs will help him. He should do better than Ray, I would assume, so that deal is probably a good one for him."
Morton went 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA in nine starts last season, missing about three weeks with right shoulder inflammation. Morton finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting during his first year with the Rays in 2019, going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 33 starts.
The right-hander continued his postseason excellence this season, going 3-0 with a 0.57 ERA in his first three starts before giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings in his lone World Series start. For his career, Morton is 7-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 13 postseason appearances (12 starts).
"He's such a good teammate and postseason performer," the NL exec said. "Any competitive team would be thrilled to add him."
Morton hails from Connecticut and makes his home in Bradenton, Fla., giving East Coast teams that train in Florida a perceived advantage when it comes to signing the pitcher.
Just as Ray's deal with Toronto was consummated quickly, there's a sense that Morton could be one of the few free agents to sign on the early side.
"My sense is he will make a decision based on several factors, but not a highest-bidder type at this point of his career," a second AL executive said. "Because of that, it could move quickly."