ST. PETERSBURG — Certainly most of the 19 1/3 innings left-hander Matt Moore threw at the end of last season were impressive. But, still, the Rays made a bold move in signing the rookie to a contract worth a guaranteed $14 million over five years and up to $40 million over eight.
The deal, announced Friday, comes with the potential of considerable risk and reward for both parties.
For the Rays, it was another in a series of contracts designed to allow them to control future payroll costs and retain players into their free agent years. But it is arguably their riskiest such move given Moore's lack of experience and the high injury rate among pitchers.
"It's very unusual to make a commitment of this sort to a player with this limited amount of service," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "It's kind a risk-sharing proposition for both sides, and if it weren't for who he is I don't think we would have felt comfortable making this kind of bet."
For Moore, 22, the guarantee of financial security (with the chance to be a free agent again at age 30) had to be weighed against the potential of leaving millions on the table with a contract that could be severely below market if he turns into a big winner.
"It was a lot of personal decisionmaking," he said. "I had to basically make up my mind, was it worth it? I feel like the risk is being shared on both ends and I'm happy where we are."
There is an additional mutual benefit: With the deal in place, the Rays have no financial incentives to have Moore start 2012 in the minors (such as arbitration or free agency eligibility), and now they could be more open to trading another starter.
Moore joins James Shields, Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria as current Rays with long-terms deals. (Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir also had them.) Moore's terms are similar to Shields', though a more valid comparison might be with Longoria, who had played in only six big-league games when his was announced.
The Rays' strategy is obviously to approach the players early to get them to agree, and both Moore and agent Matt Sosnick said the team came calling at least a year earlier than expected.
"I feel like Matt's sort of a special talent and that he's probably the best of all these pitchers they've had at this point in his career," Sosnick said. "I think that's probably what precipitated them making the decision earlier."
Friedman said the decision was based on Moore's talent, work ethic and character, citing the "mettle" he showed after his late-September call-up. "He's driven by greatness and by team success, and because of that we felt comfortable making an investment of this nature," he said.
They made their pitch in mid November, and Moore, saying he was surprised and humbled, mulled it over for a week without even telling his parents before deciding to proceed with negotiations. He consulted with Shields, among others.
Moore will receive a $500,000 signing bonus then salaries of $1 million in 2012-13-14; $3 million in '15, $5 million in '16, and a $7 million option (or a $2.5 million buyout) in '17 during his arbitration years; and a $9.5 million option (or $1 million) in '18 and $10 million (or $750,000) in '19 to cover his first two years of free agency.