The Tampa Bay Rays may end up being hamstrung by the draft restrictions in the new collective bargaining agreement, but they're continuing to play their game when it comes to smart risk and roster management for the future.
And, wow, what a move. GM Andrew Friedman and Co. locked up promising pitcher Matt Moore to the tune of five years and a guaranteed $14 million on Friday. The deal also includes club options that could make it worth as much as eight years and $37.5 million. According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, the deal is the biggest guaranteed contract ever awarded to a pitcher with less than one year of service time.
Moore is far from a household name, and for good reason: The 22-year-old left-hander pitched only 9 1/3 regular-season innings for the Rays last season. But he did stage a big coming-out party in ALDS Game 1 against the Texas Rangers, flashing the exact type of potential — two hits over seven scoreless innings — that the Rays are gambling on here.
It really is an educated risk, though. What the Rays have done here is take an eighth-round draft pick who signed for a $115,000 bonus in 2007 and identified him as one of the key parts of their future rotation. Now that they're sure of his talent, they're willing to commit to buying out all of his arbitration years at an affordable rate and possibly the years beyond that.
Still not convinced? Consider the Washington Nationals had to give Stephen Strasburg a guaranteed $15 million after drafting him in 2009 — a $7.5 million bonus with the rest spread over his first three years — before he ever threw a pitch in the Nats' minor-league system. While Strasburg may still be the team's cornerstone, what has it received for that money? Twelve amazing starts in 2010, a year of Tommy John rehab in 2011 and an affordable year of being a gate attraction in 2012. After that, the expensive world of arbitration eligibility awaits. Tim Lincecum made $23 million over his first two years of arbitration and is set to make even more with two years remaining.
There's a substantial injury risk that every pitcher faces, which is probably why Moore is taking the cash when it's on the table. (It also could be that he's tired of riding around in the minor leagues and wants the 2012 rotation spot that this contract guarantees.)
But despite their need to maintain a cost-effective big-league roster, it should be noted that the Rays don't go around giving guaranteed money to every big prospect that comes through their system. They're very careful and always take a good, long look before they leap. In fact, you might have heard of the last player they gave a long contract to someone with so little experience. Guy by the name of Evan Longoria.