Charlie Morton has said on multiple occasions in the past that he’s unsure of how long he’ll continue playing — most recently telling The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan back in April that he is “not going to keep playing for a long time” while pondering the possibility of retirement following the current season. At the time, Morton listed numerous factors — his growing family, his health, the quality of his performance, a team’s proximity to his wife’s family in Delaware — as some of the numerous factors that would influence his decision.
Morton once again commented on his future this weekend when chatting with Kaplan’s colleague, Ken Rosenthal, and while he stopped short of a definitive declaration, he did imply that a 2019 return could be in the cards (subscription link). Morton plainly stated that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be apart from his wife and children, but he also suggested he still has the desire to compete at a high level: “If I stay healthy and throw well, chances are I’ll try to continue pitching.”
The 34-year-old Morton has certainly checked all the boxes in terms of health and his own personal performance; he’s just 8 2/3 innings shy of his career-high in terms of innings pitched and has turned in an excellent 3.15 ERA with 10.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9 and a 47.1 percent ground-ball rate. Morton did have a brief stint on the disabled list in late August/early September due to some discomfort in his right shoulder, but he required only a minimal 10-day absence. He’s allowed four runs with a 10-to-2 K/BB ratio in 11 innings since returning.
I’ve speculated in the past that Morton is a sensible candidate to accept a qualifying offer, as issuing a one-year offer in the range of $18MM is a veritable no-brainer for the Astros organization. That’d give Morton the opportunity to remain where he’s comfortable and earn at a relatively premium rate while keeping open the possibility retiring to spend time with his family following the 2019 season.
However, if Morton wants to pursue a more significant contract, such interest would surely be there in the offseason — even were he to turn down that QO. Already at this point, even just two full seasons into what looks to be a legitimate late-career breakout, he’s demonstrated more than Rich Hill had when Hill was able to secure a three-year, $48MM pact. Hill’s contract spanned his age-37 through age-39 seasons; Morton is turning 35 this November, meaning a three-year deal for him would end with the same season (age-37) with which Hill’s contract began.
Last year’s free-agent freeze rightly creates questions about what even the most compelling free agents can expect to earn in the upcoming offseason, but there’s certainly a case to be made that Morton has pitched himself into consideration for a deal that would top Hill’s $48MM guarantee — or at the very least, top his annual salary on a shorter-term arrangement. Even if a three-year deal offer doesn’t materialize, Morton should have little difficulty in finding one- and two-year offers that are enticing for a player whose career earnings to date sit a bit shy of $41MM.