Posted on: February 25, 2012 4:01 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 4:01 pm
Port Charlotte, Fla. -- The Rays' young lefthander Matt Moore became a rare player to attend his first major league spring training camp after already having started (and won) a Game 1 in a postseason series.
So, could he become a rare player to be sent to the minors right after signing a guaranteed five-year contract?
Crazy as it sounds, the Rays are not yet guaranteeing him a rotation spot. The official word is, they have five spots for six starters. Yet, it seems quite a stretch to think they'd send down the pitcher who shut down the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALCS, the pitcher who some are saying is already as good or better than James Shields and David Price. Scouts talk about his great stuff, but they also love his mound presence. He just looks ready to be a huge star.
For my money, he's got to be in the rotation, no matter what they said. The rotation is precisely what makes this team special. Beyond Shields and Price, there's 2011 American league Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. With Moore, that's about as good as any top four in either league (the Phillies and Angels also come to mind), and Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis aren't too bad, either.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon is sticking with the party line about the "six guys for five spots,'' but Maddon did also say about Moore, "What he did last year speaks very loudly.'' What he did last year, even if it was only two relief appearances and two starts (including the playoff beat-down), makes the Rays a favorite, if not the favorite, in the American League, a characterization Maddon actually loves. 'I don't want people to run from it, to cower from it,'' he said. "We like it! Now let's go out and meet those expectations.''
For Moore to meet the expectations of scouts, he's going to have to become a star. On currebnt prospect lists, he is basically interchangeable with the two positional wunderkinds, the Nationals slugging outfielder Bryce Harper and the Angels speedy outfielder Mike Trout. And it seems like he came out of nowehre.
To hear Moore tell it, he just about did. He recalls that two Rays scouts, Fred Repke and Jack Powell, came down to see him "on a windy day in Moriarity'' N.M. before adding, "most days in Moriarity are windy.'' It's not the wind so much as the out-of-the-way locale that generally kept scouts away from New Mexico, but Rays scouting director J.R. Harrison, the beneficiary of the hard work of Repke and Powell, made Moore an eighth-round pick in 2007, No. 245 overall. Harper was a slam-dunk No. 1 pick of the Nats and Trout is seen as an incredible steal as a late first rounder.
But in many ways Moore may be the biggest bargain of all. Moore, who signed for $115,000 according to Cots Baseball Contracts, said it's not all the other scouts' mistakes, and that while he threw hard he hadn't much of a clue where it was going while in high school. "I definitely was a late bloomer,'' he admitted.
Well, no matter, now that he's here, the Rays know what they have, even if they aren't guaranteeing him that spot just yet. "What's special about him is hisa dvanced maturity. He's 22 going on 28,'' Maddon said. "His delivery is so good. he has a plus-plus fastball, a great changeup and a very good breaking ball.'' Moore said a key for him was that rather than trying for an alltime great breaking ball every time, and throwing a strike "two out of ten times,'' he sets his sights a bit lower.
Moore did a little bit of the same thing with his contract; he got a lot but took quite a bit less than he might get if he fulfills everyone's expectations for him. He received $14 million guaranteed over five years with a chance to make another $26 million over the three after that for a total of $40. While that has to be the about most money every paid to anyone with two lifetime starts, it carries the potential to undersell him if he reaches greatness, as many predict.
Moore, in his typical mature manner, explained the call this way: "I wouldn't say it was an easy decision. I thought about it quite a bit. But it got to the point where I couldn't say no. At 22 years old, Im going to have a lifetime of wealth ... As a pitcher and a competitor, I believe I'm going to pitch well and stay healthy. But that's not completely in my control. Well, this was in my control.''
If he becomes the star folks are predicting, he's probably cost himself several million dollars, but he isn't focusing on that or second-guessing himself. One competing agent said it has a chance to be the most undervalued deal, even ahead of teammate Evan Longoria's contract, in "three to four years.'' But as Moore put it, "If this works out bad, it'lll be good for me.'' What he means is that if he's a star, he'll get that monster deal, anyway, he'll just have to wait until he's 30.
Whatever anyone thinks about his play-it-safe contract, Moore isn't any kind of dummy. He is, like Maddon said, very mature. If some don't love his conservative contract, there is a side benefit to it: it means service time can't possibly be an issue as the Rays decide how to fill out their roster.
This guy is so good, and so ready, nothing like that should matter, anyway. If the Rays aren't officially saying it, I will. They are crazy if he isn't in the rotation.