With almost all of the former All-Star starting pitchers off of the free-agent market, the Dodgers must turn to trades to add an ace to the rotation.
One of the best available starting pitchers rumored to be available via trade is Charlie Morton. Here’s how MLB Trade Rumors summarized Morton’s potential market based on reports from ESPN’s Buster Olney.
"There are no indications the Rays, coming off a stellar season thanks in large part to Morton’s elite output, are considering parting with the 36-year-old now. But with so few (or no) sure bets left on the free-agent pitching market, he’d surely bring back a sizable return in a deal at this moment… Morton does not have no-trade protection built into his deal, so Tampa Bay could move him without his permission. However, Olney writes that the Rays have immense respect for the Cy Young contender, and if they do become open to parting with him, they’ll “probably feel out Morton” first."
If Morton is made available, he certainly has a stronger recent track record than other aces who are rumored to be out on the trade market, like Chris Archer and David Price.
Over his past two seasons, the 12-year Major Leaguer has turned his career around, making back-to-back AL All-Star teams with the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays. Two seasons ago, Morton had 30 starts of a 3.15 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, helping him go 15-3 for Houston. After his solid 2018 campaign, few could have imagined Morton setting new career-highs, but the then-35-year-old Morton dominated with his new team in Tampa Bay.
In 2019, Morton finished third in AL Cy Young voting, carrying the Rays into the ALDS against the Astros with a 3.05 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 194.2 innings. All of these marks set career-highs for Morton, proving that his late-career revival is no fluke. Another marker of his improvement has come due to his strikeout bump. In 2019, Morton punched out 240 hitters and struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings, both of which set career-bests. What may be even more promising is that Morton had a 2.81 FIP to back up his already-low ERA.
Morton still has one guaranteed season left on his current contract with Tampa, and if he misses less than 30 days with an injury, a $15 million option will vest for 2021, which would likely mean he’d reach 160-190 innings once again.
So what might it take for the Dodgers to add the two-time All-Star and World Series champion?
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Certainly, the Rays are not a rebuilding team. The 2019 iteration of the team won 96 games even though two of their star starting pitchers, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, both missed time with injury. Even so, Tampa Bay’s front office dealt their veteran left fielder Tommy Pham to the San Diego Padres just a few weeks ago. In the deal, the Rays snagged Hunter Renfroe, a power-hitting outfielder with 40-homer potential, and a young second base prospect who could be up in the bigs in a few years.
Based on this return, the Dodgers would likely need to give up a mix of young controllable minor league pieces and controllable young MLB pieces as well. To replace Morton and replenish their farm system, the Dodgers could offer Ross Stripling or Tony Gonsolin for the big league club along with (potentially) Edwin Rios or Matt Beaty from the 40-man roster to go along with some Double-A prospects to fill out the deal.
With Morton, the Dodgers would be adding a postseason-tested arm whose regular-season numbers match up with those of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler without much long-term risk.