After a 2020 regular season that was defined by chaos and struggle in regards to the Atlanta Braves starting rotation, the Braves have quickly decided that is not a path they want to experience again. Though Atlanta did see plenty of promise in many of its young arms in the postseason, the Braves seem to feel the best route to a successful 2021 season is to support their immense young talent with a bit more reliable depth. After signing Drew Smyly to a one year, $11M deal earlier this offseason, the Braves once again seized the opportunity to add another quality arm to its rotation.
This time, it is in the form of a highly familiar and highly regarded former farmhand that Atlanta is glad to welcome back home.
Morton was drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2002 draft. He worked his way through the Atlanta farm system, and though he showed flashes of significant talent, he was never able to stay consistent. Eventually, he was a part of a trio of prospects that was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Nate Mclouth during the 2009 season (how has it been over 11 years?). For the next decade, Morton would prove to be a serviceable starting pitcher at times, with short stints of brilliance mixed in. However, he threw more than 150 innings only two times between 2009-2016 during his time with the Phillies and Pirates.
Morton joined the Astros for the 2017 season, and like several other pitchers, notably Gerrit Cole, experienced immediate and significant success due to the Astros adjusting his approach. The results were highly prosperous, as Morton won a World Series with the Astros in 2017 and earned his first All-Star selection in 2018. Furthermore, after the 2018 season, Morton was highly pursued as a free agent starter. At the time, it was reported that Morton had quite a bit of interest in joining the Braves. However, Atlanta did not pursue a reunion with him, and Morton agreed to a 2 year, $30M deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Morton responded with the best year of his career in 2019, as he earned another All-Star appearance and finished third in the AL Cy Young award voting. Though his effectiveness declined a bit in 2020, Morton remained quite valuable in helping the Rays make it to the 2020 World Series with multiple successful starts during the playoffs. However, the Rays decided to not pick up his team option for the 2021 season.
Once that decision was made, it appears the Braves were set on not passing up the opportunity to sign Morton this time. Among qualified starters since 2017, Morton is 12th in fWAR and FIP among qualified starting pitchers. After entering the 2020 postseason as the team with the worst starting rotation ERA by a playoff team in MLB history, the Braves were seeking a source that was talented, reliable, and could help stabilize a unit that already offered plenty of potential with the duo of Max Fried and Mike Soroka along with impressive rookie Ian Anderson. Morton certainly seems to be a highly logical option to fit and flourish in that role.