While Morton would normally seem a pricey target for the perennially budget-conscious Rays, the Tampa Bay organization likely has more spending capacity than most would expect. Kevin Kiermaier is the lone guaranteed contract on the books in both 2019 and 2020, and Tampa’s remaining slate of arbitration-eligible players — Mike Zunino, Tommy Pham, Matt Duffy and Chaz Roe — are projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn just $12.2MM combined.
Beyond that, the Rays have compiled an impressive collection of pre-arbitration talent, headlined by AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Rookie of the Year candidate Joey Wendle, leading to a projected 2019 payroll of just $37.3MM at present. That figure includes a full 25-man roster as well as the $2MM they’ll owe the Giants in 2019 as part of last winter’s Evan Longoria trade. Low-spending as they may be, the Rays have averaged a $64MM Opening Day payroll over the past decade, so even a competitive bid for Morton — MLBTR estimated a $16MM annual salary on a two-year deal — would technically fit into the budget. Then again, the Rays have never really spent at that level (or close to it) on a free agent before.
Morton, however, aligns with what Topkin reports to be a desire by the Rays to add a short-term boost to their rotation. The 35-year-old has made clear in the past that he doesn’t expect to continue his playing career more than a couple of years, given a preference to spend time with his growing family sooner rather than later. The Astros did not issue a qualifying offer to Morton, which rated as a surprise, but they’ve reportedly made a one-year offer to him since the season ended.
While it’s frankly difficult to envision the Rays submitting the winning bid for a relatively high-priced free agent, Morton would certainly give them a formidable one-two punch with Snell atop the pitching staff. Beyond that pairing, some combination of Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks would likely get the lion’s share of innings among current Rays pitchers, though Tampa Bay’s atypical utilization of pitchers makes it impossible to forecast a traditional division of the team’s workload on the mound.