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Friday, December 9, 2011
Matt Moore, Rays agree to deal

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com

The Tampa Bay Rays have reached agreement with rookie pitcher Matt Moore on a guaranteed five-year, $14 million contract, the team announced Friday afternoon.

The deal includes three club options and could extend to eight years for $39.75 million and buy out two years of Moore's free agency, a source said. It includes escalator clauses based on innings pitched and games started that could raise the overall value to $40 million.

"Matt is one of the most talented young players in baseball and exactly the type of person we look to build around," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "For us, making a long-term commitment to a player is not only a question of his ability, but also his work ethic, competitive drive and character. Matt excels in each of those aspects and we're thrilled that he'll be part of our core for many years."

Moore, a 22-year-old left-hander, has emerged as one of the elite young prospects in baseball. He went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham this season, striking out 210 batters and walking only 46 in 155 innings. Late in the minor league season, ESPN Baseball Insider Keith Law ranked Moore as the No. 2 prospect in the game, behind Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

Moore was dazzling in a September call-up to Tampa. He struck out 11 New York Yankees in a five-inning start, and allowed only one run in 10 innings in two appearances against Texas in the American League Division Series.

"There's not very much of a case to be built except for what I've done in the lower levels in the minor leagues," said Moore, who allowed three earned runs, struck out 15 and walked three in 9 1/3 innings over three regular season appearances.

"I understand the potential and all that is there, and the hype," the left-hander added. "I had a great time when I was here last year. And like Andrew said, they drafted me in 2007 and this is the only place I've known. I'm looking forward to calling it home for the next eight years. ... I feel like the risk is being shared on both ends. I'm happy where we are." Moore's deal continues a long-term pattern for the Tampa Bay organization, which has long taken an aggressive posture in trying to lock up players with little or no service time. The Rays have worked similar contracts with outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and third baseman Evan Longoria since 2005.

The Rays expect Moore to join Shields, David Price and AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson in one of of baseball's best rotations in 2012. Davis and Jeff Niemann are also in the mix, but have been mentioned in speculation as potential trade chips for Tampa Bay. Moore's contract is the biggest ever in guaranteed dollars and potential earnings for a pitcher with less than two years of service time. It surpasses previous deals for Shields, Davis and Oakland's Brett Anderson, who all had one year of service time when they signed their contracts.

"We've already seen glimpses of his talent, but more than that he's shown he has the mettle to compete in the American League East," Friedman said. "It's a difficult environment. ... He's gotten a lot of experience quickly, but we're all excited to see what Matt can do over the long term."

Jerry Crasnick is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.