If there was any doubt as to whether Charlie Morton would continue his playing career following comments in which he openly pondered retirement, the right-hander indicated last night that he hopes to return for a 12th big league season at the very least (Twitter link via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). “I’d love to keep playing,” Morton said after last night’s game. “I’d love to be an Astro. I’d love to be a part of this again. Ultimately, it’s not really up to me. It’s not solely up to me.”
Morton’s most recent indications were that, so long as he didn’t suffer any notable injury in the season’s final month, “chances are” he’d continue his career. His intentions seem all the clearer now. Set to turn 35 next month, Morton has previously indicated that he’ll be selective about the team with which he signs and has emphasized that if he were to continue pitching, the Astros are his ideal fit. Thursday night’s comments seem to double down on that line of thinking. If a return doesn’t come together for whatever reason, Morton indicated earlier this year that proximity to his wife’s family in Delaware could be an important geographic factor should he look at offers from other teams.
It seems all but certain that the Astros will issue a $17.9MM qualifying offer to Morton, so speculatively speaking, perhaps that’ll be a simple avenue for him to return to Houston in 2019. However, there’s little doubt that if he wanted to seek maximum value in free agency, Morton could trounce that figure on the heels of a pair of eye-opening campaigns with the ’Stros. Morton has made 55 starts for Houston across the past two seasons, pitching to a pristine 3.36 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9 and a 49.6 percent ground-ball rate. At this point, he’s probably among baseball’s 25 to 30 best starting pitchers — an ascension that seems rapid and out of the blue but is no more sudden than the surge that netted a 37-year-old Rich Hill a three-year deal in free agency two offseasons ago.
It’s not clear exactly how long Morton wishes to continue his career, and the right-hander himself may not even truly know the answer to that question at this time. But it’d be a surprise if he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, and if chooses to explore the open market rather than agree to a quick return to Houston, it’s at least plausible that he could more than double the $40.7MM he’s made in his career on his next contract. One way or the other, he’s about to cash in on a massive raise from the modest two-year, $14MM deal that initially brought him to Houston.