Over the past 13 months, right-hander Charlie Morton has ascended from a relatively unheralded signing by the Astros to one of the top pitchers on a loaded Houston roster. The 34-year-old righty currently leads the American League with a 0.72 ERA and has posted a dominant 33-to-6 K/BB ratio. Dating back to Opening Day 2017, and including his postseason heroics, Morton has a 3.32 ERA with a 221-to-62 K/BB ratio in his past 195 innings.
The righty, who turns 35 in November, has suggested in the past that he’s not sure whether he’ll continue playing beyond his current contract, which expires at season’s end, and he expounded on that difficult decision as part of an excellent Q&A with Jake Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription link). In a general sense, Morton explained that he feels at peace with his career and that his goals as a baseball player have “pretty much been fulfilled” — presumably a nod to last season’s World Series Championship (during which Morton pitched the final four innings of Game 7 and was credited with the win).
Morton didn’t rule out the possibility of continuing his career beyond the present season, though he came across as a player who’ll be quite selective in the offseason when weighing interest from teams in free agency.
“[I]t would be about the situation overall,” the right-hander said. “What’s the group like in the clubhouse? Where would I be? Would I be closer to [his wife’s] family (in Delaware) in a spot where she would prefer to be?” Morton goes on to list his own health and performance as additional determining factors in playing into 2019 and possibly beyond.
Though geography could be an important factor and the East coast sounds as if it’d hold appeal, Morton also plainly stated that he’d rather remain with the Astros than test the open market at season’s end. Morton describes the group of talent in Houston as “special” and adds: “…when you think about a team that you want to play for, a team like this is it.” At present, however, he added that he’s not aware of any extension talks between his agent and the Astros.
As Kaplan notes, Morton is rapidly pitching himself into qualifying offer territory, so the decision could be fairly straightfoward for both parties. A one-year deal at a premium rate — something north of this past season’s $17.4MM value — for the 2019 season would presumably be appealing to the Astros’ front office. Morton, meanwhile, would have the opportunity to remain where he’s comfortable on a deal that leaves him a window in the near future to walk away from the game and begin spending more time with his growing young family — something which he stressed on multiple occasions to be the most fulfilling part of his life. Certainly, it doesn’t sound as if he’ll be entertaining any long-term offers.
“It could be this year, next year, but I’m not going to keep playing for a long time,” said Morton of his eventual retirement. “I can promise you that. I’m not going to keep playing four, five, six, seven more years.”
Kaplan and Morton also discuss the right-hander’s improved velocity, some mechanical and training alterations, various high/low points of his career, his injury history, learning a new curveball grip from former teammate A.J. Burnett and some nicknames he’s accumulated over the course of his career in a terrific Q&A that is full of thoughtful, insightful answers from the right-hander.