Rays lock up lefty Moore with long-term deal
Pact is for minimum of five years, options could make it eight
ST. PETERSBURG -- It didn't take Matt Moore long to prove his value to the Rays.
Tampa Bay announced Friday that it agreed to an eight-year deal with the 22-year-old left-hander, who has made only five Major League appearances and two starts between the regular season and postseason. The first five years and $14 million of the deal are guaranteed, with club options for 2017, '18 and '19 that could raise the contract's maximum value to $39.75 million.
The Rays have signed James Shields, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis to similar long-term club-friendly deals, and executive vice president Andrew Friedman was once again quick to attribute the team's recent success to its scouting and player development system churning out players like them.
"For us to have any chance of sustaining this level of success, it's very important for us to develop championship-caliber players and people like Matt," Friedman said.
Moore, No. 3 in MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list, said he was surprised and humbled by the offer considering his lack of experience. Friedman even admitted it was unconventional. But both were excited about the agreement, which will keep one of baseball's most talented young pitchers in a Tampa Bay uniform for the long haul.
"If you had asked me a year ago or six months ago if I thought I could potentially sign a five-year guaranteed contract," Moore said, "I'd say there would have to be a lot of things that would change, and they did. A lot of things fell into place to put me where we are today."
Friedman noted that the contract doesn't instantly guarantee Moore a spot in the Rays' crowded starting rotation next season, and those questions likely won't be answered until Spring Training.
"There's a lot of risk involved, especially with a pitcher with his limited service," Friedman said. "But for us, there's three really important criteria as we go through these types of deals: one being ability, two being work ethic and three being character. He scores really highly on all three fronts."
Moore showed his ability throughout his time in the Minors, especially in 2011 as he climbed from Double-A Montgomery to the Majors. Moore proved his character in his second outing, entering a must-win game at Fenway Park on Sept. 17 and allowing one run on two hits and two walks over three innings.
Friedman said that performance prompted Tampa Bay's front office to start thinking about offering Moore a long-term contract.
Moore kept it up during the American League Division Series against the Rangers, throwing seven shutout innings in a Game 1 win and then throwing three strong frames in Game 4. Shortly after the Rays' playoff run came to an end, they began to discuss a long-term contract with Moore's agents.
"Obviously once we got into the Division Series, his poise was just off the charts," Friedman said. "You could see glimpses of his talent, but I think the thing that stood out to us the most is that he proved to us he has the mettle to compete in this division. We have a very high standard in this division, and that means a lot to us."
Moore was so surprised by the initial offer that he didn't tell anyone -- not even his parents -- for a week. As the conversations intensified and he gained a greater understanding of the details and implications, Moore began to discuss it with people close to him.
That didn't include Longoria, who signed a similar deal in 2008 despite having practically no Major League experience at the time. But Moore did reach out to Shields, who also signed a long-term contract in 2008. Shields told Moore to make whatever decision he felt comfortable with, but he also offered advice to his young teammate.
"He told me that a big help for him was pitching stress-free," Moore said. "It seems like guys in situations where they're playing year-to-year, sometimes they get caught up in what they have to do, whereas in this situation that I'm in right now, it's more so worrying about the process and repeating it and pitching -- nothing else."
The Rays' eighth-round pick in the 2007 Draft, Moore said he was excited to finally attend his first big league camp during Spring Training no matter what his role is. But it's probably safe to assume the young lefty will be a prominent and successful member of Tampa Bay's rotation for years to come.
"I think this is one of those fits," Moore said. "This is the only place that I've known. I look forward to calling it home for the next eight years."
"At least eight," Friedman chimed in, smiling.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.