9:02pm: Rays manager Kevin Cash said he’s optimistic Morton will return when he’s eligible Aug. 20, Eduardo E. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times tweets.
10:03am: The Rays have placed right-hander Charlie Morton on the 10-day injured list due to inflammation in his right shoulder, the team announced Monday morning. Lefty Jose Alvarado was reinstated from the paternity list in a corresponding move.
Morton, 36, exited Sunday’s outing after just two innings due to fatigue in his shoulder. The veteran righty said after the game that he wasn’t concerned with missing much time, but the organization clearly felt there was at least a need for a short-term reset. It’s been a tough start to the year for Morton, who has seen his fastball velocity dip by about two miles per hour as he’s worked to a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 2/3 frames.
Morton is still missing bats and throwing strikes, but his ground-ball rate has plummeted from 48.2 percent a year ago to 34 percent in 2020. With the uptick in fly balls has come an uptick in home runs; Morton yielded just 15 long balls in 194 2/3 frames in 2019 (0.69 HR/9) but has surrendered three so far in 2020 (1.62 HR/9).
The 2020 season is the second of Morton’s two-year, $30MM contract with Tampa Bay. He justified the cost of the contract — and then some — in year one of the deal alone, when he pitched to a 3.05 ERA and finished third in AL Cy Young voting. The Rays have an option over Morton for the 2021 season, and that option will now become quite interesting, depending on how long the right-hander is sidelined. The value of Morton’s option is tied to time spent on the injured list — which he avoided entirely in 2019. The option would settle at $15MM with fewer than 30 days on the IL between 2019-20 but could still drop to $10MM or even $5MM if he misses substantial time. (The option could’ve also landed at $3MM or $1MM, but that would’ve only happened had he missed considerable time in both seasons of the deal.)
Major League Baseball and the Players Association reached an agreement last month to prorate the qualifiers needed to unlock roster bonuses, vesting options, etc. As such, the 30-day figure that Morton would’ve needed to come in shy of is also prorated. An exact 10-day stint on the IL would still leave his option price at that $15MM mark, but if he misses even a couple days more than that, the value of his option would drop to $10MM. MLBTR confirmed as much earlier this year.
The Rays would open themselves up to a potential grievance if Morton’s camp felt he was being kept on the injured list just to drive down the value of his 2020 option, although the velocity drop and shoulder fatigue could certainly be used as justification for their decision. For now, it’ll be telling to simply see how long Morton remains shelved and whether any further diagnosis is provided.