Now, Morton returns to where his career began. He was drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2002 draft out of Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Conn., and made his major-league debut with the Braves in 2008. He went 6-8 with a 6.15 ERA in 16 appearances, including 15 starts. He was traded to Pittsburgh the following year in a package for outfielder Nate McLouth and spent seven seasons with the Pirates. He moved to Philadelphia for the 2016 season before joining Houston in 2017 and then Tampa Bay.
Morton, an All-Star in 2018 and 2019, helped the Astros to the World Series title in 2017 over Los Angeles. He’s developed a reputation as a big-game pitcher, earning a 3.38 ERA in 13 postseason appearances (12 starts). And that’s exactly what the Braves targeted.
Credit: Atlanta Braves
Brave GM Alex Anthopoulos addresses free-agent signings of pitchers Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton, and what more to expect from the market.
Credit: Atlanta Braves
The Braves are building their roster with the postseason in mind after winning the National League East three consecutive seasons. They fell 12 outs short of a World Series appearance last month, falling to the Dodgers in a seven-game NL Championship Series. They went on that run despite seemingly endless rotation woes. They heavily relied on Max Fried and Ian Anderson in the postseason, with the duo pitching four of the first five playoff games en route to the NLCS.
While the Braves didn’t declare the rotation the No. 1 priority, the board fell in their favor because like last winter, they moved aggressively. Last week, the Braves signed lefty Drew Smyly on a one-year, $11 million upside play. In Morton, they’re adding a more known quantity — and a player who should drastically affect their odds in the playoffs.
“We had an extremely short list of guys we would consider,” Anthopoulos said. “Basically two of the three, and obviously we got two. These were the two guys at the top of our list with Charlie and Drew. We’re really glad we were able to get both guys.”
The rotation, when healthy, will include Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Morton and Smyly. It’s the most complete rotation the Braves have had during their newfound contention window, and they still boast several young pitchers as depth, led by Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa and Bryse Wilson. As Anthopoulos has stressed, teams need at least six starters “you feel good about.”
Those pitchers will be working with catcher Travis d’Arnaud, whom Anthopoulos signed from the Rays last winter. Morton had a 3.38 ERA and held opponents to a .202 average in the 12 games he worked with d’Arnaud in 2019.
With $26 million invested in solidifying the rotation, the Braves can turn their focus elsewhere. That conversations begins with slugger Marcell Ozuna, who’s coming off an MVP-worthy campaign, or perhaps finding his replacement(s) to keep the offense among baseball’s most potent. The Braves also have three key relievers - Mark Melancon, Shane Green, Darren O’Day - as free agents to re-sign or replace (possibly internally).
Under Anthopoulos, the big-ticket trades haven’t come to fruition, but the team has been a major free-agency player. It signed Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann before the 2019 season and acquired Ozuna, d’Arnaud, Will Smith and Cole Hamels before the 2020 campaign. The organization has already added two rotation upgrades this month in what’s been an otherwise slow-developing market across baseball.
The Braves’ 40-man roster now stands at 39.