The Atlanta Braves love to move early. They have done it two years running in otherwise uncertain markets, and they’re doing it again as we speak.
The Braves have extended righty Charlie Morton for next year, plus an option:
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) September 6, 2021
There’s an important caveat to any discussion that follows, and it goes something like this: most believe Morton would not continue playing unless he could stay in the southeast, so he was probably never going to be a “true” free agent. Against that backdrop, many assumed this extension would happen, and thus you have to consider all that when you try to place his deal into context.
Morton, 37, has been fantastic this year, as the press release notes. His 3.47 ERA is 18% better than league average by ERA-, and he’s done it over a boatload of innings, relatively speaking. The 3.29 FIP is 22% better than league average. He’s still a very, very good pitcher, and to get him on a one-year deal at that price – plus a freebie team option thereafter with no buyout – is a very nice deal for the Braves. I would love a deal like that for the Cubs. Again, though, Morton was not really a true free agent, or at least that’s what most people think about his plans for the future.
It’s tough to say this deal means too much for the broader starting pitching market, where the Cubs will *HAVE TO BE* active this offseason. A short-term deal with a solid AAV is the kind of deal you would expect the Cubs to be particularly interested in, but it’s not as if this deal for Morton tells you much about what a much younger Kevin Gausman or Marcus Stroman or Carlos Rodon or whoever else are going to get. You might be able to argue that the AAV sets a range of expectation, but if you want to try to get guys to sign two or three-year deals these days, that AAV is going to have to be PREMIUM.
Of note? Morton’s deal is probably just a touch north of the expected Qualifying Offer level, which indicates the Braves felt he would definitely accept a QO if they made it later on (and they would’ve been fine with it). Again, hard to extrapolate too much to the broader market given their unique situation, but it could plausible suggest that there will be a LOT of QOs made this year, as we’ve recently discussed. In other words, if Morton is clearly worth a Qualifying Offer, despite his age and injury risks, perhaps lots and lots of players will be.
I suppose one other impact here is that it fills up a quality starting spot for the Braves without them having to dip elsewhere into free agency (if, for example, Morton decided to retire).
Oh, also: I still don’t expect a ton of new deals before the expiring CBA is sorted out (it expires December 1). Morton and the Braves are a unique situation in that respect, too, though I do think there might be one or two teams (Braves and Giants?) who try to jump the market before the CBA, willingly taking any associated risks.