One of the storylines heading into the offseason for the Atlanta Braves was whether or not they would bring back veteran Charlie Morton by exercising his $20 million option for 2024. From a statistical standpoint, Morton was better in 2023 (2.7 fWAR) than he was in 2022 (1.5 fWAR). But, a lot of that had to do with his HR/FB going crazy-high in 2022, and falling below league average in 2023. In terms of xFIP-, he actually got much worse (97 in 2023; 90 in 2022; an average of 78 since his career revival through 2021). That gave the Braves a ton to consider.
Morton is entering his age-40 season and has amassed 1,960 1⁄3 innings in his career. Even with that career workload, he has proven to be durable during his time in Atlanta, landing on the Injured List for the first time during his Atlanta tenure last September with a finger issue. There were financial considerations for retaining him as well, given that the team’s payroll is above the “Competitive Balance”/luxury tax for the second straight season.
However, when all was said and done, Atlanta elected to bring Morton back. Given the sky high price of pitching this (and last) offseason, that was likely the correct move. Morton, to his credit, said at BravesFest that he went home after the Division Series loss and really didn’t think much about his situation until Alex Anthopoulos called after the Braves had already exercised the option.
“I didn’t talk to Alex until he called after they exercised the option. I honestly had no idea, I didn’t know what was gonna happen,” Morton said. “Certainly at this stage, realistically there was only a couple of teams I would have played for if I was gonna play. My family and I, we didn’t really have any discussions about it. We just kind of went into the offseason just relaxing. I started working out and just getting ready and assuming that if they did, I would be ready. I’m excited, I feel ready, I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
Morton, at times during 2023, sounded like he might be contemplating calling it a career. You could pick up on it even more late in the season, after he and his teammates clinched a sixth straight division title. He later admitted that going into last season, he thought it might be his last. But, he also let on that he has been thinking about retirement here and there since his time with the Phillies.
“I thought I was gonna retire off and on over the past few years. I always thought that the game was gonna tell me to stop,” Morton said. “I thought that either my body or the game was gonna tell me to stop. I remember being with the Phillies going into the 2016 season and thinking I better start to really enjoy this time, because I don’t have much time left. Because either I’m gonna stink or I’m gonna get hurt again.” (Amusingly, his stint with the Phillies kicked off his late-career renaissance, and he’s produced far more value, 22+ fWAR from age 32-on, than he did during his first years with the Pirates, where he only managed around 7 fWAR total.)
“I think going into last year, I was viewing last year, certainly, as a possible last season. I’m looking around, I may have tried to take this all in,” Morton added. “I don’t think I need to be present in that, with that mentality anymore. I think I’ve been so fortunate to be able to go to so many places so many times. Experience so many things on and off the field with so many different people, different organizations, players, coaches, you name it, the fans, people that work at the stadiums. I think if you asked me six or seven years ago, where I actually was telling myself to take account of the blessings, the privilege. Now, I think, looking back, I was so lucky. I think at this stage, I really do need to try to just enjoy it, but also make it about winning and make it about the ultimate goal as a team.”
For what it is worth, Spencer Strider never doubted that Morton wouldn’t return and called him the glue that holds the clubhouse together.
“I never doubted he was,” Strider answered when asked about Morton’s return. “As long as he’s breathing, he’s gonna keep playing whether he tells you different or not. He’s really the glue in the clubhouse to me, especially amongst the pitching staff.”
Morton suffered a fractured leg during Game 1 of the World Series in 2021. Besides that, he hadn’t had a stint on the Injured List throughout his time with the Braves, at least until late September last season, when he suffered a finger injury. That injury ultimately kept him off the Division Series roster and a potential Game 3 start. He says that he is fully recovered and has no lingering pain.
“It doesn’t hurt and it feels normal. It feels stable. There’s no pain,” Morton said. “It wasn’t the pain, it was more of, just like, the dysfunction of my finger not working. You throw a fastball and one of your fingers, one of your two fingers you’re pushing off the ball, it’s not really working right. That’s not good, but I definitely feel like it’s stable and strong and there’s no pain.”
Morton said that the injury occurred during his final start in Washington against the Nationals. He threw just one inning before coming out of the game.
“It was so weird, I was just throwing a curveball and I spiked it. I put a good bit of tension on my breaking ball. “I just remember feeling my finger go, it’s like, man, what was that? I just remember thinking, ‘That’s not good,’ but okay. I finished the inning, I just spun a couple more breaking balls and got out of it. We got in the dugout, Murph was like, what’s wrong? And I was like, I don’t know, I hurt my finger. That was, not knowing the extent of it, thinking that it wasn’t a big deal, because it's a finger, but apparently it was.”