Charlie Morton believes he found the perfect situation with the Rays. Not just in terms of money and location. Not just in environment and culture. In the end, he was able to check every box that was important to him.
"When I heard the Rays were interested, I really hoped we could work something out," he said. "Everything about the situation seemed perfect. I couldn't wait to hear what was going on from the negotiating side of it. When I found out it was something we could agree on, I was anxious to get it going."
The Rays announced on Friday that they'd signed Morton to a two-year, $30 million contract that also includes an option for a third season.
Morton makes his offseason home a half-hour south of Tropicana Field in Bradenton, Fla., and he recently met with team executives and manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder. Morton felt even more comfortable after that.
"The thought of being able to play close to home and with such a talented group, a young group, an exciting group, seemed something too good to be true," Morton said. "I guess I was looking for a really good situation overall more than a dollar amount, more than a year amount. The quality of the character in the clubhouse, those things are really important to me."
As the Rays researched Morton's background, they too saw him as a perfect fit. He'd been one of the best pitchers in baseball during two seasons with the Astros, but the appeal went deeper than that.
"Charlie is somebody that certainly, over last two years, you're talking about somebody that has top-of-the-line stuff and top-of-the-line results," Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Erik Neander said. "Just the character of the person and as a teammate and someone that can be a more senior member of our team. He can carry influence with our young group. We're excited about the fit and the chance to bolster that group."
Funny how things work out. When Morton became a free agent after the 2016 season, he wasn't even sure he'd get a Major League offer. He'd had so many injuries through the years that he figured he might have to sign a Minor League contract and prove himself. But the Astros believed he had the potential to produce ace-like numbers and signed him to a two-year, $14 million deal.
• Free-agent rumors
"They were so aggressive that I told my agent, `Don't negotiate with anyone else,'" Morton said of the Astros.
In two seasons in Houston, he fulfilled every promise. Besides becoming the first pitcher to get a win in Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 7 of the World Series in the same postseason (2017), here's where he ranked among all AL starting pitchers in 2017-18:
• 3.36 ERA, 10th
• .220 batting average, seventh
• 10.44 strikeouts per nine innings, ninth
• 1.18 WHIP, 14th
• 313 2/3 innings, 21st
Beyond all of that is the impression he made on almost everyone around the Astros, as both a good pitcher and an even better man.
"He's as genuine a person as I've been around in the game," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Everyone has a Charlie Morton story. They all center around him being selfless and all about others. I've been proud to be his manager."
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Morton will join with 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to give the Rays a traditional top two in their rotation. Right-hander Tyler Glasnow is penciled into the third spot, and with Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell expected back from Tommy John surgery around mid-season, Cash will have an assortment of options.
However, the Rays remain strongly committed to the "opener" strategy and could use it with any of their starters except for Snell and Morton. As for the leadership aspect of it, Morton said that's something that must come organically.
"It's not about what I hope to be for other guys," he said. "I think mainly it's just focusing on being someone that guys can respect and go to if they need to. I'm trying to be a professional. Trying to be a good teammate. I'm not looking to necessarily be in that role [of a mentor]. You kind of fall into that, depending on the relationships you make and the quality of time you spend with people. I'm looking forward to seeing where I can fit in and where I can benefit."
His new contract will pay him $15 million in 2019 and 2020 and includes a team option that could be worth another $15 million in 2021 if he stays healthy and wants to keep pitching. His 2021 salary will be determined by a sliding scale from $1 million to $15 million, depending on how many days he spends on the disabled list.