The Braves have easily been the offseason’s most active team in the early going. Atlanta has made a pair of rotation additions, signing southpaw Drew Smyly to a one-year, $11MM deal and bringing in Charlie Morton for one year at $15MM.
Single-year terms has become a staple of the Alex Anthopoulos regime in Atlanta. They’ve had plenty of success with short-term additions of Josh Donaldson and Marcell Ozuna, but last winter’s Cole Hamels signing didn’t pan out as the left-hander’s year was derailed by injury. The front office decided to roll the dice on a new pair of veteran hurlers after coming up one game shy of a pennant in 2020.
Each of Morton and Smyly was indeed projected by the MLBTR staff to ink one-year deals this winter. However, both pitchers pulled in a bit more money than anticipated during what is widely expected to be a frigid offseason in the wake of teams suffering massive revenue losses. Morton picked up $7MM more than anticipated, while Smyly’s deal came in $6MM above expectation.
There are plenty of reasons the Braves’ front office decided to jump the market on these specific pitchers. Morton put up ace-caliber numbers from 2017-19 and rounded back into form down the stretch after a difficult start this past season. Smyly has battled injuries and inconsistency throughout his career but flashed a new level for the Giants in 2020. The 31-year-old showed massively improved raw stuff and generated whiffs in bunches en route to a 2.01 FIP. He’ll need to prove he can sustain those gains for more than 26.1 innings, but it’s easy to see the upside.
One other factor worth considering: the qualifying offer. Neither Morton nor Smyly has received one in the past, meaning they’ll be eligible for the QO next winter if they spend the entire season in Atlanta. It’s not especially likely either player warrants a QO in eleven months. Morton would be entering his age-38 season and might not even wish to keep playing; Smyly’s a year removed from a 6.24 ERA season. But the same would’ve been true of Kevin Gausman a year ago, and he sufficiently rehabilitated his value during his platform year to earn a qualifying offer from the Giants this offseason.