Las Vegas — The Rays are comfortable putting relief pitchers on the mound to begin games. But the chance to add an All-Star to their 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 AP 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 winner 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’d 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’ innovative 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 in 2019.
“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.
Roark heads to Reds
Tanner Roark figured he would be pitching in Washington’s star-studded rotation next year alongside Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and newcomer Patrick Corbin.
Instead, he found himself part of the majors’ first Tanner-for-Tanner trade, headed to the rebuilding Reds. Cincinnati acquired him for fellow right-hander Tanner Rainey.
“I felt like we would have a pretty good staff over there in D.C. but they thought otherwise and I don’t know what their plans are,” Roark said in a conference call. “I’m just grateful to be a National. It was good times over there.”
As of now, Roark could lead a young Reds rotation — though president of baseball operations Dick Williams made it clear his last-place club is hardly done dealing. Righty starter Matt Harvey came to Cincinnati from the Mets last May.
The 32-year-old Roark led the National League in losses last season, going 9-15 with a 4.34 ERA.
He is 64-54 in six years, all with Washington.
Roark made $6,475,000 last year and is eligible for arbitration. He can become a free agent after next season.
The Yankees and free-agent lefty J.A. Happ were nearing a two-year contract Wednesday night, according to national baseball writer Jon Heyman. Happ was 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA and 1.131 WHIP last season, spent with the Blue Jays and Yankees.
... The Rangers and right-hander Lance Lynn were closing in on a three-year, $30-million deal, according to MLB.com. Lynn was 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA last season, with the Twins and Yankees.
... The Angels signed first baseman Justin Bour, per Yahoo! Sports.
Around the horn
Free-agent outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, a former Tigers prospect, and the Red Sox have reached agreement on a minor-league contract.
... The Brewers avoided arbitration with right-hander Jimmy Nelson, the sides agreeing on a $3.7-million salary.
... The Pirates and right-hander Jordan Lyles agreed to a one-year contract worth $2.05 million, per Heyman.