It’s tempting to call the A’s current rotation a disaster, but A) it doesn’t currently exist and B) it didn’t stop them from going to the playoffs last season.
Regardless of last season’s bullpen-centric success, it’s highly likely the A’s will acquire some new starting pitchers, and with the playoff window open the A’s will have to look in multiple places. New arms could come via trade and via free agency. So who will those pitchers be?
The free agent crop is impressive in depth and quality. Unfortunately, this is an A’s blog meaning the top free agents aren’t all that interesting to discuss because the A’s are out-priced. Even with the headliner to this article, the A’s are unlikely to shell out the required cash, but it’s December and thus let’s discuss: should the A’s pursue Charlie Morton? There haven’t been any specific A’s-related rumors like with Matt Harvey, but let’s proactively take a look anyway.
Morton has had a long career with a recent revival, not all that dissimilar to Rich Hill. He’s 35 years young and has an extensive injury history, but that’s not something you can tell by his fastball velocity (which has risen the last few years, up to 96+ mph on average). Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.
Why the A’s might be interested in Charlie Morton
Ultimately you just need good players to win, specifically in the playoffs. We saw that with the Brewers, a team with similar starting issues to the A’s. The A’s could repeat 2018, relying heavily on the pen to reach the playoffs and bullpenning those must-win October games. But it’d be a risky thing to plan for again.
As constructed, the A’s don’t have an ace. Mike Fiers is gone and Sean Manaea is out for the year, and the players making waves in trade rumors are mostly bounce-back types (like Sonny). It’s possible the A’s do make a big splash via trade, but either way the A’s need something resembling top-of-the-rotation talent.
Morton is affordable-ish by the A’s standards in that he’s looking at a very short-term deal. FanGraphs’ various projections are in agreement he’ll land a deal around two years at $16 million per year, which isn’t much different from what Oakland gave Scott Kazmir when their last competitive window opened up. Truthfully, it’s unlikely the A’s sign him at that number with the payroll already tight. But the relatively short contract length makes Morton less of a risk, something the A’s have always sought in pitching targets. It also means he’d be off the books by the time the team’s young core begins hitting arbitration and getting expensive.
Finally, we’re seeing more than ever that fortune favors the bold. It’ll take more evidence to prove that the playoffs are anything but a crapshoot, but the past few years have seen the best teams win out. If the A’s are going to compete, it’s worth the effort to put the best product on the field instead of relying on too much smoke and mirrors, especially if a one-game playoff looks like a possible scenario.
Why it’s unlikely to actually happen
Pitchers get injured, let’s just start there. Morton hasn’t been immune to injury (elbow, hip, hammy, lat, shoulder, etc.), and so long as linear time continues at a similar trajectory, he’ll increase as an injury risk. With so few arms available as starters now, the A’s might be best suited to hitch their wagon to multiple pitchers rather than designating a large quantity of resources to one big splash.
(On a somewhat contradictory note, we might be entering a new phase of the A’s finances. For the first time in possibly the entire Beane era, the team is ready to spend in a way incongruent to the current season’s revenue. Instead, they might be able to spend a lot one year and less the next. If true, the short-term deals lose some of the luster that made them so enticing in seasons past. A new financial outlook could encourage the A’s to look at longer-term options.)
Morton has been a very good pitcher as of late, even dominant in the postseason, and he’s actually enjoyed a late-career peak the last couple years in Houston. However, due largely to a lack of durability (career-high is 170 innings), his best projections grade him out as roughly an average pitcher going forward. That’s important as an injured Morton does the A’s little good, especially if it’s inconveniently timed around a potential playoff game.
Essentially, Morton is a heavy investment for far from a sure thing.
What do you think?
Vote in the poll!
Should the A’s pursue Charlie Morton on a two-year contract?
This poll is closed
Yes! Great fit, exactly what the rotation needs.
No! Spread the money out between multiple new SPs.