It took only one regular season start for Matt Moore to convince the Tampa Bay Rays that he was worth keeping around for the long haul.
Sure, there was a glimpse of playoff brilliance and a few years of minor league dominance sandwiched around that. But the fact remains that less than three months after making his MLB debut, the Rays signed Moore to a five-year, $14 million deal which could become an eight-year, $37 million contract through team options and incentives.
It's the type of shrewd foresight that Rays' Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has consistently demonstrated in turning the Rays into a playoff team three out of the past four years despite strict payroll constraints.
Signing Moore buys out his first two years of arbitration (2015 and 2016), and will delay Moore's free agency by two years (2018 and 2019) if the Rays exercise each of their option years.
While Moore will earn far more than the minimum salary he was slated to earn in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the team will recoup that money in the following two seasons when Moore is locked into $2.8 million salaries instead of going through the arbitration process. The logic assumes that Moore will be the elite, front-line starter that most people in the league expect him to become, but it seems like a safe bet. Moore dominated the Yankees in his first career start, striking out 11 in five shutout innings. He also gave the Rays their lone postseason win over Texas, yielding only two hits over seven shutout innings.
As an example of what can happen if teams go the arbitration route, the Giants signed Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $23 million deal just before Lincecum was set to go to arbitration for the first time. He had won the past two NL Cy Youngs (in 2008 and 2009) and would've been eligible for four years of (pricey) arbitration before hitting free agency. Still, by waiting for Lincecum to put his elite talent on full display for a couple years before signing him, the Giants ended up paying a steeper price than the Rays will if Moore fulfills the potential he's already exhibited, albeit briefly.
This isn't to imply that Moore will win back-to-back Cy Youngs. But if he becomes the ace that baseball executives expect him to, the Rays (a team that needs all the financial help it can get) will have saved themselves a considerable amount of money buying out his arbitration years alone.
The three team options will keep Moore affordable for the Rays (or whatever their team name is by then) into his thirties. Had Moore played out his mandatory six years (at his projected elite level) before hitting free agency at 29, the Rays would've almost certainly been outbid for his continued services by the Haves of the baseball world. By giving themselves the option to delay Moore's free agency by two years at a reasonable rate, the Rays may have bought themselves a little extra time to get their stadium issue resolved and create the revenues necessary to keep elite talents like Moore instead of watching them sign with the Red Sox or Yankees.
The plan to pay Moore immediately could backfire of course. He wouldn't be the first prospect to not pan out. Still, the $14 million commitment from the Rays is a pittance compared to what it would've cost them if Moore becomes the ace that most MLB executives believe he will eventually be, if he's not already.
Rob Smith is a contributing writer for the Business of Sports Network. He can be reached on Twitter @RobSmithUSF or on his personal blog, http://smithersports.blogspot.com/
Follow The Biz of Baseball on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook