Braves extend pitcher Charlie Morton to one-year, $20 million deal

Following his 100th career win, Braves pitcher Charlie Morton reflects on his growth from a rookie in 2008 to feeling like he's earned teams' trust in big spots

The Braves extended starter Charlie Morton to a one-year deal worth $20 million with a team option for 2023, the team announced Monday.

Morton, 37, signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Braves last winter, returning to the franchise where he began his career. His first year back has been a success: Morton owns a 3.47 ERA over 28 starts (158 innings). He’s also been the team’s most reliable starter, avoiding the injured list to this point.

The 2023 team option is worth $20 million and doesn’t include a buyout. Morton’s earnings would max out at $40 million over two years if the Braves pick up the option. Morton and his family reside in Bradenton, Fla., and last offseason as a free agent he expressed a clear preference to stay near home. The Braves, a familiar organization that trains in nearby North Port and is a quick flight away from Bradenton, aggressively pursued Morton after the Rays declined their $15 million option on the righty.

It’s a pairing that’s worked brilliantly for both parties. Morton hasn’t showed any signs of decline with his 38th birthday approaching in November. In fact, he’s improved as the season has progressed. Morton has a 2.86 ERA over his last 11 games. In his past two starts, he kept pace with Dodgers righty and Cy Young contender Walker Buehler, then he logged seven innings at Coors Field, the ultimate hitters’ paradise, on Sunday.

His fastball velocity is averaging 95.5 mph, an increase from last season (93.4) and 2019 (94.7). His stuff has looked crisp even earlier in the season when he wasn’t getting the desired results. His recent performance has been pivotal in pushing the Braves into first place.

“Charlie, it just amazes me,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said last week. “I feel like I can never say enough good things about him. He just continues to go out there and perform. At his age, to continue doing what he’s doing is remarkable. His cerebral approach to the game, there’s a lot that can be learned from it. I’m thankful to be a teammate of his.”

Morton will now likely finish his career where it started. The Braves drafted the Joel Barlow High School (Conn.) product in the third round of the 2002 draft. Morton debuted in 2008 but was traded to Pittsburgh after 16 career appearances (25 starts) the following year as part of a package for outfielder Nate McLouth. He pitched for Pittsburgh the next seven seasons.

The right-hander spent 2016 in Philadelphia before beginning a fruitful two-year run with Houston in 2017. He helped the Astros win their first World Series title and was named an All-Star the following season at age 34. He signed with Tampa Bay before 2019, going on to earn another All-Star nod in his first season with the Rays and helping them win the American League pennant in his second.

During his time with the Astros and Rays, Morton developed a reputation as a big-game pitcher. He has a 3.38 ERA in 13 postseason appearances (12 starts). He’ll hope to further improve those numbers with the Braves this October.

Retaining Morton gives the Braves one less item on their winter to-do list. He’s the second veteran to sign an extension in the past three weeks, joining catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who signed a two-year deal Aug. 20. All eyes will center on first baseman and National League MVP Freddie Freeman’s free agency this winter, but it certainly helps the Braves to have already kept their starting catcher and frontline right-hander.

Morton’s and d’Arnaud’s value extends beyond the field as they’re two respected leaders in the clubhouse.

“I love (working with Charlie),” d’Arnaud said Sunday. “He thinks of everything, every situation. He understands what a game plan is. At the same time, he understands when he has to wing it when he doesn’t have a certain pitch. I don’t think any moment is too big for him. He’s himself all the time. He’s fun to be around and whenever we need him, he always shows up.”

Morton will lead what’s expected to be a largely young rotation next season. Current starters Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Touki Toussaint and Huascar Ynoa are all under team control for multiple seasons following 2021. As is young All-Star Mike Soroka, who will try to overcome two Achilles tears and return to the group. The Braves felt a bonus of signing Morton was having his wisdom around their younger players. They’ll continue to reap that benefit in 2022 and maybe beyond.

“I would say I’ve tried to be a good teammate and be a friend and try to create meaningful relationships,” Morton told The AJC during an interview in early May. “That’s what really matters, at the end of the day. That’s how I’ll look back on my career. How was I in the clubhouse? How was I as a teammate? Aside from the obvious of how I pitched. Because to me, that’s just one facet of a career. I think, for me, what I derive meaning from in the game is more off the field and those relationships.

“It’s nice to hear (younger Braves pitchers praising him). I’m really honestly just trying to be a good dude. If that means that somebody wants to ask me a question about baseball. But certainly, the people I have played with who impacted me the most were the ones that cared. So I think that’s where I’d say my focus lies, making an effort to care about how they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”