The Rays are not going to exercise their club options on right-hander Charlie Morton or catcher Mike Zunino, vice president of baseball operations Erik Neander told reporters (including Juan Toribio of MLB.com and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Morton’s option was valued at $15MM, while Zunino stood to make $4.5MM if his option were exercised. Neither player will receive a buyout and both are now free agents.
Tampa Bay is leaving the door open to bringing either player back, Neander adds (via Toribio). They’re particularly interested in retaining Morton, it seems, with Neander noting the parties will look for a “creative” way to keep him in the fold (Topkin link).
Both players had important roles on the Rays’ pennant-winning 2020 club, but Morton is the more notable of the two. The 36-year-old (37 next month) was a Cy Young finalist just a year ago, when he tossed 194.2 innings of 3.05 ERA ball. He took a bit of a step back over nine regular-season starts this season but he still looks like a strong mid-rotation starter at the very least. He reaffirmed that with four stellar postseason starts.
Morton immediately becomes one of the best pitchers on the free agent market, but it remains to be seen how much interest he’ll have in exploring deals with other teams. The veteran makes his home in Florida, a key point in his decision to sign with the Rays as a free agent after the 2018 season. Earlier this month, Morton said he’d seriously discuss the possibility of retirement with his family if the Rays declined his option. At the moment, though, he “is believed to want to continue his career,” hears Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
As for Zunino, the call was probably a bit easier for the front office. The former third overall pick has started just over half the Rays’ games behind the plate the past two years but hasn’t hit much. Since Tampa Bay acquired him from the Mariners, Zunino has hit just .161/.233/.323 over 373 plate appearances. He struck out in 64 of his 140 plate appearances between the regular season and playoffs in 2020. The well-regarded defender hits the market at just 29 years of age, though.