Braves boost rotation, sign Morton for 1 year at $15 million

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA —  The Atlanta Braves were looking for more than just experience and depth when they signed two-time All-Star Charlie Morton to a $15 million, one-year deal Tuesday.

As was the case when the Braves recently signed another veteran for the rotation, Drew Smyly, general manager Alex Anthopoulos sought a power arm to help push Atlanta to the World Series.

“It’s swing and miss stuff,” Anthopoulos said. “There’s a theme there with both Charlie and with Drew. Power swing-and-miss stuff, in the postseason it certainly plays.”

Morton, a 37-year-old right-hander, is returning to the Braves after helping Tampa Bay reach the World Series this season.

The Braves relied on their young starting pitchers to move within one game of the World Series this year, falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.

Braves left-hander Max Fried finished fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Rookie sensation Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright also boosted the rotation after Atlanta lost ace Mike Soroka with a torn Achilles tendon.

The Braves are counting on Soroka’s return in 2021, but the injury was a reminder of the need for depth.

“It’s going to be a longer season than it was last season with 60 games, and depth is critically important,” Anthopoulos said. “Whoever you think your five are going to be when you get into spring training, I can pretty much guarantee you those five will not be standing upright by the time you break for opening day. You want to have at least six that you feel good about.

“Even though our young starters took a step, having that depth was critically important for us and it’s something that if we could get done early we certainly were going to try.”

In addition to losing Soroka, the Braves demoted struggling right-hander Mike Foltynewicz. Cole Hamels made only one start after signing an $18-million, one-year deal for 2020 that became more than $6.6 million prorated during the season shortened by the novel coronavirus.

Smyly and Morton provide significant experience to the group of young starters. Smyly signed an $11 million, one-year deal with the Braves on Nov. 16. Smyly, 31, became the first of the 181 free agents to switch teams.

Atlanta was impressed with Smyly’s four September starts with San Francisco when he had 31 strikeouts in 18 innings, allowing 13 hits and seven earned runs.

Morton was 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA in nine starts with Tampa Bay in 2020. He was 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four postseason starts as the Rays advanced to the World Series.

He was an All-Star in 2018 and 2019 and helped the Houston Astros win the World Series in 2017. Anthopoulos said he believes Morton may have had a slow start in 2020 because of the coronavirus quarantine but showed his All-Star form in the postseason.

Morton was drafted by Atlanta in 2002 and made his major league debut with the Braves in 2008 before he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2009.

He is 93-89 with a 4.08 ERA in 13 seasons. Since 2017, he is 47-18 with a 3.34 ERA. He was third in the AL Cy Young voting in 2019.

“We saw him trending back to where he was in 2019,” Anthopoulos said.