Astros sign free-agent Morton to 2-year deal

Veteran pitcher healthy, eager to join rotation mix for '17

Astros sign free-agent Morton to 2-year deal

HOUSTON -- The Astros added some depth and experience to their starting rotation mix on Wednesday by reaching a two-year deal with free-agent right-hander Charlie Morton, who was injured most of last season.

The deal is worth $14 million for two years, a source told MLB.com, plus incentives that could pay Morton as much as $9.5 million for each of the two seasons ($19 million total) if he reaches 30 starts yearly. He made a career-high 29 starts in 2011 for the Pirates.

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"The young core is extremely exciting," Morton said. "I was fortunate to be a part of that with the Pirates in an environment where guys are coming together and are tight knit and a really exciting environment. To me, that's a pretty rewarding thing to be able to be part of something that's come together."

Morton, who essentially replaces the veteran starter role Doug Fister served in last season, joins a rotation that includes former American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, along with Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers.

Morton lands with the Astros

"You can never have enough pitching in the rotation," manager A.J. Hinch said. "When [Morton is] healthy, he does as good a job of anyone in the league at getting the ball on the ground and being efficient at getting his outs. I'm excited about that part and having a little bit of a different look to our rotation and keeping him on the field. Some of the injuries in his career have been the only thing holding him back from logging the kind of quality innings he can do."

Morton, 33, made four starts with the Phillies last season before sustaining a torn left hamstring on April 23 after putting down a bunt. The injury required surgery. Morton is primarily a sinker and curveball pitcher who thrives on getting the ball on the ground, which has been a trademark of several pitchers who general manager Jeff Luhnow has acquired through the years, including Fister.

"We saw last year with our rotation, depth matters," Luhnow said. "We had six starters for the whole year until past the [non-waiver] Trade Deadline and then all of a sudden two of our starters go on the shelf and we were a little shorthanded. We know it takes eight, nine starters to get through the year. We really love the quality of what Charlie brings with his pitches and effectiveness of his pitches and what he's able to do. It's going to play really well in the American League and in our ballpark with our defense."

The 6-foot-5 Morton has spent all nine years of his career pitching in the National League, including a breakout 2011 season in which he went 10-10 with a 3.97 ERA with the Pirates. Since the start of the '12 season, Morton is 25-32 with a 4.02 ERA in being limited to 82 starts because of injury. He's had a pair of hip surgeries, Tommy John surgery and surgery to repair the torn hamstring. He said he's thrown six times in the bullpen following the spring surgery to reattach the hamstring, including at 50-plus pitches, so he's healthy.

"I guess I'm where I expect to be," Morton said.

Morton's 2.48 career ground ball-to-fly ball ratio ranks second in the big leagues behind Keuchel's (2.84) ratio, and that was a big selling point for the Astros, who boasted about their infield defense of Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Marwin Gonzalez and, perhaps, Yulieski Gurriel.

"Making a choice for the guys that can execute the outs behind him, he chose well," Hinch said.

Morton's deal calls for him to be paid an additional $625,000 when he makes his 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th starts each season.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.