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Rays decline options on Charlie Morton, Mike Zunino

By Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays are not going to pick up 2021 options on pitcher Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino but will continue talks with both as they become free agents.

Morton was due to make $15 million and Zunino $4.5 million. General manager Erik Neander said the decisions were made based on those salaries, that they appreciate and value the on- and off-field contributions both of them made, and would be open to bringing both back under different terms.

Decisions on the options had to be made by Sunday, so now the Rays have more time.

"With both of them the door is staying open, we're going to continue talking," Neander said during a season wrap-up Zoom call. "We're going to go down that path. Those were decisions we have to make right now. We just finished (playing) a few days ago."

Morton, 37 next month, has said he wants to return to the Rays, and would do so had the option been picked up, but also that he could consider retirement.

"Charlie has been very open about the uncertainty in his future and where he's at," Neander said. "Frankly, we felt it best to let him catch his breath, let him process, let him make some decisions with his family and to have those conversations. To give this a little bit more time to let this play out and see where things go.

"We would love nothing more than to have Charlie back and to have him part of our club next year, and we'll have a little more time to do that, but it won't be just by way of picking up the option."

Neander said he had "a great conversation" with Morton on Thursday night and told him how much they appreciated his on-field contributions the past two seasons as well as what he did in terms of leadership, culture shaping and guidance to young players.

 

Neander said he also had a nice talk with Zunino and noted his contributions behind the plate and leadership with the pitchers.

The Rays also parted ways with their backup catchers, as Michael Perez was placed on waivers and claimed by the Pirates, while Kevan Smith cleared waivers and became a free agent.

Pitchers Andrew Kittredge and Chaz Roe, who both were on the 45-day disabled list at the end of the season, also cleared waivers and became free agents. The Rays are expected to continue talks with those three about coming back.

Morton was 2-2, 4.74 in nine starts during the season, missing three-plus weeks with shoulder inflammation, and was 3-1, 2.70 in four postseason starts. He would have been on the mound for Game 7 of the World Series had the Rays advanced.

Zunino hit .147 with four homers, 10 RBIs and a .598 OPS in 28 games, missing nearly a month with an oblique strain. In 19 postseason games, he hit .170 with four homers, eight RBIs and a .593 OPS.

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