Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

Steering clear of Charlie Morton appears to have been a major mistake by Phillies



Charlie Morton is having a dominant season for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire)

At the same time that Jerad Eickhoff was in the midst of a start where he allowed five home runs and seven total runs against the Arizona Diamondbacks – a start that ultimately cost him his spot in the rotation – former Phillie Charlie Morton was pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night. And by pitching, in Morton’s case, we mean dealing.

Morton, 35, tossed seven shutout innings for the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night, allowing just two hits and striking out seven in a win over the Oakland Athletics. Monday night wasn’t fluky – Morton has been unreal in 2019. He’s 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA, 2.66 FIP and 2.6 fWAR. Not only does he look likely to make the American League All-Star team for the second consecutive season, but Morton, the definition of a late-bloomer, could start the game.

While Morton’s Phillies tenure was brief – he pitched just 17.1 innings in 2016 before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury – he started to show the velocity increase that has made him one of the game’s better starters the last two-and-a-half seasons. And after helping the Houston Astros to win the World Series in 2017 and return to the ALCS in 2018, Morton was a free-agent this past offseason. At this juncture, it looks like a gigantic mistake that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and more teams around the league weren’t more willing to pursue Morton.

A few days after the Phillies fell short in their pursuit of J.A. Happ, another former Phillie, Morton signed a two-year/$30 million free-agent contract with the small-market Rays. There was never an indication that the Phillies showed interest in a reunion with the right-hander.

Instead, Morton joined the upstart Rays. And according to FanGraphs‘ fWAR to dollars scale, he has been worth $20.6 million thus far. The fWAR to dollars scale is idealistic in nature – it doesn’t take into account what similar players make, a player’s history, the luxury tax threshold etc. – but it’s still pretty eye-opening to think that Morton has already been worth more than his salary according to that scale.

Meanwhile, Zach Eflin, who has a 2.81 ERA and 4.42 FIP, has been the Phillies best starter in 2019. Aaron Nola, a year after finishing third in National League Cy Young Award voting, has seen some regression, as he’s allowed 11 home runs in 76.2 innings. Jake Arrieta was serviceable for the Phillies in Tuesday night’s win over the Diamondbacks, but his ERA sits at a less-than-ideal 4.31 after 14 starts in 2019. Nick Pivetta, a popular breakout candidate ahead of the season, did throw a complete game in his most recent start, but had such a poor start to the season that he was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The fifth spot in the Phillies starting rotation has been a revolving door, filled by Vince Velasquez and Cole Irvin, among others.

For much of this season, there’s been speculation about what pitcher the Phillies will land ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, assuming they remain in playoff contention. Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray’s names all have been bandied about. None of them are having as good of a season as Morton. And as noted on Tuesday’s edition of Locked On Phillies, this Phillies team feels multiple starters away from being able to not only make the playoffs, but compete for the National League pennant. Morton would have given the Phillies another legitimate front-line option, and wouldn’t have been so cost prohibitive that he would have prevented a major addition from being made this summer. The temptation to take a risk on a rental like Bumgarner may not have been as strong, though. Or perhaps signing Morton would have made pursuing such a piece a more sound investment, as it would have made the Phillies one piece away from being legitimate World Series contenders.

Sports talk seemingly wouldn’t exist without the cliche “Hindsight is 20/20.” And there’s some truth in that, Morton’s health history was the reason the Phillies (and a bunch of other teams) didn’t outbid the Rays, something they certainly could have done. There’s also some truth in the time-tested saying “You have to risk it to get the biscuit.” If the biscuit is the postseason or World Series, the Rays, despite playing in a crowded division, look to be in pretty good shape for taking a risk on Morton. The Phillies, well, they’re a ways further away from getting to the biscuit for not being willing to take a shot on Morton.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Craig Glessner

    June 13, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Whit Merrifield, Dee Gordon, Nick Castellanos, Adam Frazier, Starling Marte a couple of position players on teams going nowhere who may be motivated to move them for a half decent prospect like Ranger Suarez or Jhalin Ortiz, or Arqimedes Gamboa. Just names I’m throwing out there since I remember putting Charlie Morton’s name at the top of my free agent wish list back in December. I know some of my posts come off as very sarcastic but I love baseball and I love the Phillies and I always tell people I’d rather be a smartass than a dumbass. I also have the ability to admit when I’m wrong and last year I said I’d trade Neris for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he has been outstanding this year but Tim Kelly I just don’t think we will ever get more from Cesar Hernandez I would hope I’m wrong but he’s a limited hitter with almost no power and a very below average glove. It takes all kinds of fans for Philly Nation and a lot of passion that comes in different forms to all the writers and all the fans I say thank you and in the corny words of Journey (Don’t Stop Believing) even you Phanatic I know losing sucks and takes a toll on people but the Phillies time is coming we might not have Utley to say it again but we will be World Fu$&in Champions again soon.

  2. Phanatic

    June 13, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Hernandez, Franco, Hoskins and Harper represent 4 out of 8 batters. They are not getting the job done. When one adds 7 guys on the DL from the bullpen and very shaky starting pitching and a manager who is a novice it is a recipe for disaster. The Phils are not in first place this morning and that trend will continue until ultimately the Phils are passed by the Nationals and maybe the Mets too.

    Morton would have been a good pickup, yes I agree, but would it matter? Did it matter last night when Eflin pitched a pretty good game? Once the Phils fall to 3-4 games behind the Braves, it is good night Charlie. Pun intended.

    The good news is that we now know this in June. Last year it took us until August to figure it out. This year we can get out summer back by reading a book, traveling or just about anything worthwhile that does not include paying one ounce of attention to the toxic garbage dump that is the Filthy-dumpia Dillies.

  3. Phantatic

    June 13, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Also D.J. LeMahieu was a nice free agent signing by the Yankees (a real team with a real history and tradition) and it has gone well for them. And he plays 3B too. Wouldn’t it be nice to have him on the Phils at 3B with Kingery at 2B. Then we could get an OF at the trade deadline. Throw Franco and Hernandez to the scrap heap where they belong.

    I’m not happy with Harper or Hoskins either but let’s get Hernandez and Franco out of here first as that is more of an emergency.

    • Tim Kelly

      June 13, 2019 at 7:11 pm

      Saying it’s an emergency to move Cesar Hernandez a month after he hit .327 is asinine.

      • Phanatic

        June 13, 2019 at 11:23 pm

        Defending Little Cesar who is batting .116 THIS month is asinine. We could have signed LeMahieu who is batting over .300 all year. And he plays 3B as well as 2B.

        But what difference does it make to talk about Hernandez or Morton. There is so much wrong with this team that neither player really matters much anyway.

  4. Jeff Orbach

    June 13, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    if there is one pattern to Matt Klentak that I see ,he tends to over value our own talent. The examples are plentiful-Altherr/Williams=Christian Yelich, Cole Hamels = no better than what we already have. Charlie Morton falls into that category, maybe Dallas Keuchel as well.

    We definitely needed an upgrade which we didn’t get. I would like to see him trade for a good starter , maybe from Cleveland (they have a couple) and a reliever from the Giants ( they have 3). We also need an outfielder and while we’re at it a new hitting coach

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