The Rays will not exercise their club options at right-handed Charlie Morton or catcher Mike Zunino, baseball executive vice president Erik Neander told reporters (including Juan Toribio of MLB.com and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Morton’s option is valued at $ 15 million, while Zunino stands to earn $ 4.5 million if his option is exercised. Neither player will receive any redemption, and both are now free agents.
Tampa Bay is leaving the door open for one of the two players to return, Neander added (via Toribio). It seems they are particularly interested in retaining Morton, with Neander noting that the parties will find “creative”; ways to keep him in the fold (Topkin link).
Both players have pivotal roles in Rays’s 2020 pennant-winning club, but Morton is the more notable of the two. The 36-year-old (37 months later) was a Cy Young finalist just a year ago, when he launched 194.2 plays with the 3.05 ERA ball. He has stepped back a bit in nine regular season starts this season but at least he still looks like a strong mid-swing starter. He reaffirmed that with four excellent post-season starts.
Morton has instantly become one of the best pitchers on the free agency market, but it remains to be seen how much interest he will be interested in exploring deals with other teams. The veteran returned home to Florida, which was the pivotal point in his decision to sign Rays as a free agent after the 2018 season. Earlier this month, Morton said he would be in serious discussion about the possibility of retiring with his family if Rays rejected his choice. For now, however, he “is supposed to want to continue his career,” said Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
For Zunino, the call was probably a bit easier for the front office. The third overall pick previously started just over half of Rays’ matches behind the table in the past two years but failed to achieve much. Since Tampa Bay acquired him from the Mariners, Zunino has scored only .161 / .233 / .323 in more than 373 appearances. He has scored in 64 out of 140 appearances between regular season and knockout stages in 2020. However, this highly regarded defender comes to the market at just 29 years old.