After considering future, Charlie Morton decided to keep going with Braves

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: AP

When the Braves first approached starter Charlie Morton about an extension, he was unsure if he’d continue playing beyond 2021.

Morton, 37, doesn’t remember the exact time the Braves first approached his representation about a new deal – he estimated it was sometime in July – but he wasn’t overly eager to think about his future. He didn’t want any in-season distractions. He imagined himself sitting down this winter with his family and figuring out if he wanted to continue his career.

But as time went on, and Morton’s performance kept improving, his decision became clearer. That culminated Monday, when he and the Braves reached an agreement on a one-year, $20 million extension that includes a team option for 2023.

“It was really just a decision about whether I wanted to keep going at that point,” Morton said. “And then the final offer that they made, it’s just unreal. It was getting hard for me to look at next year and think that I wasn’t going to play. I love the group here. The group here is awesome. It really did take me a little while to decide because it’s a big decision that involves more than just me. But I’m extremely appreciative. The Braves have been nothing but great. I’m excited.”

The Braves are thrilled to keep Morton, too. He’s met or exceeded every expectation from when the team signed him last winter. Morton owns a 3.47 ERA in 28 starts, including a 2.86 mark over his past 11 outings. He’s the only Braves starter who’s avoided the injured list, logging 158 innings.

His 185 strikeouts put him on pace to become only the second Braves starter in the past 12 years with a 200-strikeout season (joining Mike Foltynewicz, who fanned 202 in 2018). Morton has looked at his best lately, going seven innings at Coors Field in his latest outing and matching Cy Young contender Walker Buehler in his start before that.

Morton’s velocity has increased from his past two seasons, when he helped the Rays to a pair of postseason appearances, including the American League pennant in 2020.

“It (the velocity uptick) is one of the reasons we wanted him back for next year,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I just admire Charlie for the way he takes care of himself. The miles he’s had, the innings he’s thrown. It’s like he goes out every game and you kind of go ‘wow.’ The stuff. It’s really, really good. He’s a guy who’s obviously taken care of himself and been very professional about everything. He’s figured out how to do it, that’s for sure.”

While all that makes it sound like it would be an easy decision to continue playing, Morton, recounting his thought process on the Truist Park field before Tuesday’s game, said he spent a long time considering his future.

One wouldn’t know it by his performance, but Morton turns 38 in November. He’s earned more than $76 million in his career, according to Spotrac. He had to consider his wife and four kids. Ultimately, when he realized he could still pitch at a high level, he realized he wasn’t ready to walk away.

“(I decided to keep playing) probably when I started to really feel like I was pretty good mentally, healthy, throwing the ball well,” he said. “And then I was thinking, I can’t really see myself just completely shutting it down. So I don’t know, it’s one of those things where I was not just hesitant about that, but also doing that kind of stuff in the season. I try not to be a distraction. But really, at the end of it, my agent just asked yes or no.

“I really didn’t want to think about (my future during the season). I wanted to wait until the end of the year. But we got the impression that aside from something drastic happening, there would be a really strong offer from the Braves for me to come back. And knowing that, it was a pretty easy decision because it just didn’t seem like the negotiation situation was going to be much different in the offseason. The teams that I really want to play for (the Braves and Rays, who play near his Bradenton, Florida home) weren’t going to be any different. So I’m glad that we worked it out.”

As Morton outlined, when he opted to keep playing, accepting the Braves’ proposal was an easy choice. He’ll make $20 million, a $5 million increase from his 2020 salary, and earn the same amount in 2023 if he wants to go another season and the team picks up his option. He likely will finish his career with the franchise with which he debuted in 2008.

The Braves have jumped in front of the offseason market, re-signing catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a two-year deal in August before extending Morton. Both players are crucial on the field and behind the scenes as veteran leaders.

In Morton’s case, he’ll headline what could be an otherwise young rotation next year. Max Fried turns 28 in January. Ian Anderson (23), Touki Toussaint (25), Huascar Ynoa (23), Mike Soroka (24) and Tucker Davidson (26 in May) are still youngsters.

Regardless of how this season ends, the Braves are comfortable knowing they’ll have Morton’s reliability in the rotation next year as they again vie for a postseason spot. And Morton is excited to add another chapter to his Braves career.

“I’m in as good a spot as I’ve ever been,” he said.

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