The Rays have declined their 2021 options on starting pitcher Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino, as general manager Erik Neander told media members Friday:
#Rays Neander said they will not pick up options on Morton or Zunino— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) October 30, 2020
Morton was due $15 million next season, while Zunino was set to make $4.5 million. Neither player will receive a buyout. The Rays’ front office appears to believe that retaining both players at their agreed-upon costs was outside their budget — a budget that is already usually the lowest in the majors and figures to be even tighter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Neander expressed some degree of interest in bringing back borth Zunino and Morton — an understandable interest considering that both players were key members of their 2020 AL pennant-winning club.
#Rays Neader said they would love to have Morton back. Said both Zunino and Morton bring intangibles to the team they greatly value— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) October 30, 2020
#Rays Neander said the decision with Morton was based on the $15M salary, but they plan to be "creative" and would like to work something out if Morton wants to come back— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) October 30, 2020
Morton joins Trevor Bauer as one of the best starting pitchers on the free-agent market. While his numbers over the 60-game regular season weren’t exactly stunning — he posted a 4.74 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP with 42 strikeouts and 10 walks over nine starts (38 innings) — he was stellar for most of the postseason, allowing one earned run over five innings in an ALDS start against the Yankees before throwing 10.2 scoreless innings against the Astros in the ALCS. He did struggle in his lone World Series start, allowing five earned runs on seven hits, six strikeouts, and a walk over 4.1 innings.
The 29-year-old Zunino, whose strength has generally been his defense during his eight-year career, took a step back defensively during the pandemic-shortened season, posting -2 defensive runs saved. He also struggled to make contact at the plate as he has for most of his career, hitting .147/.238/.360. But he did provide solid power for a catcher as he often has, hitting four homers in 28 games. He was at times a key offensive contributor during their postseason run, particularly during the ALCS, when he posted a .911 OPS with two homers over 20 plate appearances. He finished the playoffs with a .170/.196/.396 slash line and four homers in 56 PAs.
The Rays also parted ways with the two other catchers on their 40-man roster Friday, waiving Michael Perez (who was claimed by the Pirates) and outrighting Kevan Smith, who will elect free agency. That leaves prospect Rolando Hernández, who has not played above High A, as the only catcher on their 40-man.