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December 9, 2011

Transaction Analysis

More Moore in St. Pete

by R.J. Anderson

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TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed P-L Matt Moore to a five-year extension worth $14 million with three club options that could raise value to nearly $40 million. [12/9]

Moore has all of two major league starts under his belt, but the Rays decided they’d seen enough to gamble on the young man and his golden left arm. This is, of course, an oversimplification. Four and a half years have passed since the Rays drafted Moore in the eighth-round at the urging of their area scouts. By now, the organization should have a good feel for Moore and his personality. Implicitly, they seem to think highly of him.

Identifying young players worthy of an extension and then extending those players has become a patented Rays’ stratagem, most notably aggressively extending Evan Longoria after he played in six major league games. Andrew Friedman agreed to terms with James Shields and Wade Davis after the players made 52 and 35 starts for the Rays respectively. Even Ben Zobrist, fresh off a career season where he hit .297/.405/.543 (after previously hitting .222/.279/.370 in similar playing time), received a lengthy deal from the Rays. (It should surprise no one if the Rays also extend Matt Joyce before Opening Day to a deal similar to Zobrist’s.)

Any of those extensions could have—and still could, in some cases—falter. There is an inherent risk in locking up a pitcher given the attrition rates. The Rays themselves are no strangers to dealing with a lefty whose sweet-looking contract turned sour. However, given the Rays’ budget and reliance on making smart trades, the contract extensions serve three purposes: 1) buying out otherwise unaffordable free agent years; 2) assisting with cost certainty; and 3) boosting potential trade value.

The last point could have proven critical in Moore’s pursuit of an Opening Day rotation spot. In addition to Moore, Tampa Bay has David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb on the depth chart, each with claims to a rotation spot. The Rays also have Chris Archer and Alex Torres waiting a level away for their own cracks at becoming the next young sensation in the club’s rotation. The expectation is that Davis, Niemann, and/or Cobb will be dealt to upgrade the lineup before spring, thus opening a spot for Moore in the process.

But Moore may have broken camp with the big league squad anyways. The Rays are notoriously meticulous in counting days to prevent their position players from reaching Super Two status. In comparison, the Rays seem almost apathetic towards pitcher service time. And so, many will wonder why Moore’s agent, Matt Sosnick, would let him sign this contract—particularly in knowing that four years of arbitration could be realistic? The most obvious answer is that turning down a guaranteed $14 million is tough for any 22-year-old, even those in baseball.  Moore was not a big bonus baby, either, meaning this is his first opportunity to set his family up for life. 

The value of security is subjective. Moore may value it higher than you or your neighbor would. Likewise for the Rays, who could be stuck with $14 million in sunk costs should Moore fail to develop into a worthwhile major league pitcher. That seems unlikely—this is the guy who dazzled in the playoffs and struck out 210 batters in 155 innings across Double- and Triple-A, after all—but stranger things have happened. At the very least, Moore now has a major league quality wallet to go with his arm.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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