Despite Charlie Morton‘s solid 2018 season the Houston Astros’ front office made the decision not to give him a qualifying offer. The offer of $17.9 million would have been right around Morton’s market value in terms of the money per year.
Without a qualifying offer Morton does not have compensation picks attached to him, in the event that he signs elsewhere. A consequence of this is that his market value will be higher and other teams will be more willing to offer him a contract. A return to Houston still seems possible for Morton, but they will surely have to give him a contract in excess of the value of the qualifying offer if they want to keep him.
By refusing to extend a qualifying offer the Astros have opened the door to Morton signing with another Team. With Dallas Keuchel also a free agent this year and Lance McCullers Jr. out for the 2019 season, the Astros could potentially lose three fifths of their historically good 2018 rotation.
Keuchel or Morton?
Offseason moves will be crucial for the Astros’ in order to reinforce their depleted rotation. With two of their starters becoming free agents it would make sense for them to re-sign at least one of Keuchel or Morton.
Morton does not have the track record or Cy Young pedigree of Keuchel and he is also four years older than Keuchel. However, Keuchel’s strikeout rate has fallen drastically since he was at the peak of his powers whilst Morton’s has increased over the last two years. Keuchel will also likely command a much larger contract than Morton.
So why did Keuchel recieve a qualifying offer whilst Morton did not? The Astros front office would have been pretty certain that Keuchel would reject the offer so they had nothing to lose by offering it. On the other hand, the front office must have assumed that Morton would accept the offer otherwise there would be no reason not to offer it.
Maybe Charlie Morton on a one year $17.9 million deal does not seem so bad after McCullers is now out for the whole season.
Morton on the Market
Securing the signature of Charlie Morton could be crucial if the Astros are to stave of the Athletics and continue to dominate the AL west. By making the decision to not extend a qualifying offer they have lost their advantage over other teams.
Morton should be near the top of the list of targets for any team looking to compete in 2019. Having pitched over 170 innings just once in his 10 year career, he should not be at risk of burning out imminently despite being almost 35 years old. He would likely not demand a long term deal so would be a low risk option that would improve the middle of any rotation.
Crucially Morton has clearly made changes over the last few years as his velocity and strikeout rate have increased suggesting that his recent success has been more than just a fluke. He has become the ideal starter for the modern game. He throws hard and strikes hitters out before handing over to the ‘pen for the third time through the order.
Even if he does end up back in Houston, Morton should be set for a big pay day late in his career and will surely have plenty of options on the table.