In an extension reminiscent of signing Evan Longoria after just 24 major league at bats, the Tampa Bay Rays have given top prospect Matt Moore, who made his major league debut with three appearances last September, a five year contract extension, with three option years. The five guaranteed years will be worth $14 million, while the value of the options can push the deal to a total of $39.75 million over eight years.
Let’s talk about the five guaranteed years first. At just $14 million over the five years, the Rays are paying Moore for roughly 3 fWAR total over the first five years. This of course, is lunacy, when you consider that Moore was worth 0.4 fWAR in just 9 1/3 innings this past fall. Moore could conceivably (and I don’t think it’s a reach, at all) post that 3 fWAR in his first season with the club, making everything else gravy. He’ll be 22 on Opening Day 2012, and the guaranteed years of this deal will take him until he turns 27 (his birthday is in June). Figure in the option years, and Moore won’t be hitting free agency until age 29. It seems like a no brainer move for the Rays, much like with Longoria’s extension. Tampa Bay agreed to pay their franchise third baseman $17.5 million for the first six years of his career, with an additional $30 million getting tacked on for the final three years of the deal. In his four season career, Longoria has already been worth 26.9 fWAR, which is worth $121 million on the open market. So in four seasons, Longoria has already exceeded the max value of his contract…by over $60 million.
It’s a different story with pitchers, though. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Moore to suffer an injury requiring Tommy John surgery, which would knock him out of action for a year, and require him to spend a year getting back to his normal self. But still, the risks for signing Moore for five years and $14 million and ridiculously low. As I mentioned, $14 million is roughly 3 fWAR in value. Over the last five years, 218 MLB pitchers have been cumulatively worth 3 fWAR, including guys like Mark Hendrickson, Brad Bergesen, and Brandon Lyon. It’s not like this is some sort of unattainable pinnacle for Moore. Hell, if you look at just 2011, 53 pitchers were worth 3 fWAR, including a pair of relievers in Jonathan Papelbon and Craig Kimbrel. It is absolutely not a reach to claim that Moore could exceed the guaranteed money in his deal in the first season. As for the total maximum value of his deal, Moore would need to be worth about 9 fWAR over the life of the eight years to exceed the value. Over the last eight years, 148 pitchers have been worth at least 9 fWAR cumulatively, including BJ Ryan, Chris Young, and Jamie Moyer.
I love the deal for the Rays, even if Moore doesn’t have a host of major league experience. This is a guy who struck out 225 hitters and walked 49 in 164 1/3 innings in AA, AAA and the majors last season at the age of 21/22. He’s the best pitching prospect in baseball, and the Rays were wise to lock him up before he blew the doors off of the 2012 season and his career suddenly got more expensive. Kudos to Andrew Friedman for going outside of the box yet again.