Baseball / MLB

Morton, Rays agree on two-year, $30 million deal; Yankees focus on retaining pitcher Happ

AP

The Tampa Bay Rays are perfectly comfortable putting relief pitchers on the mound to begin games. But the chance to add an All-Star to their patchwork rotation, that was too good to pass up.

Coming off a career-high 30 starts, Charlie Morton reached a $30 million, two-year contract with the Rays, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract has not been officially announced.

The 35-year-old Morton was a first-time All-Star last season when he went 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA for Houston.

Morton helped the Astros win their first championship in 2017. He started and won Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against the Yankees, then was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers with four innings of relief.

“He’s a good pitcher,” Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “You never like to have good pitching come into the division, prefer they go somewhere else.”

Morton’s success with the Astros came after a career that had been beset by injuries and inconsistency. He had undergone Tommy John surgery and was just 46-71 with Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before going to Houston.

The right-hander joins a Rays staff led by AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

The Tampa Bay rotation was wrecked by injuries this year, and the team often used relief pitchers as starters in their “opener” strategy on the way to 90 wins.

The Rays’ approach became a trend in baseball, especially when teams saw how well it worked. Tampa Bay went 46-38 with traditional starters and was 44-34 when using relievers at the start.

Manager Kevin Cash said earlier this week at the winter meetings that the Rays will employ the strategy again this season.

“I think right now we’re discussing internally whether we do it two times through the rotation or three times through the rotation,” Cash said Monday. “But the nice thing is we’ve got all that information last year and we have a bunch of candidates that we can fill in as a traditional starter if need be.”

Two days later, the math became a little easier with Morton.

Meanwhile, as Brian Cashman tried to close a deal to keep left-hander J.A. Happ, the New York Yankees general manager made clear Wednesday he could shift his focus from pitching to high-priced free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado at any moment.

“We are prepared to pivot and react at any moment if things change,” Cashman said. “You know where my current focuses are, but at the same time we’re a fully operational Death Star.”

Cashman has said all offseason he has more than enough outfielders. Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, said earlier in the day the Yankees had not told him they were uninterested in his top free agent of the offseason.