The idea that Matt Moore was the type of player the Rays should lock up with a long-term contract first occurred to Andrew Friedman on a Saturday afternoon in September at Fenway Park.
Moore, pitching in relief of Jeff Niemann, allowed one run in three innings of a crucial game. But what really caught Friedman's attention was the way the rookie battled back after walking back-to-back batters in the sixth inning. A ground ball and an infield pop-up was all it took to escape the jam.
Friedman's initial thought was reinforced when the Rays were deciding who would pitch the playoff opener. They went with Moore and he delivered their only postseason win, allowing two hits over seven shutout innings against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.
"Doing what we did in Game 1, there was definitely a risk element to that move," Friedman said. "We wouldn't have done that if we didn't feel comfortable with who he is and the way he's wired."
Friedman took another risk with Moore – a huge risk – Friday when the Rays signed the 22-year-old left-hander to a back-loaded contract that guarantees $14 million over the next five seasons. Add options years in 2017, '18 and '19 and the deal could be worth $39.75 million. With bonuses, Moore stands to make more than $40 million over the life of the contract.
Friedman, the Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, said he looks for three characteristics in a player before signing him to a contract of this nature: character, talent and work ethic.
"And we feel like Matt rates very highly in every respect," Friedman said. "There is a risk when you make these deals that guys put their feet up and feel like they've made it, that they've achieved a certain level of success. I think in Matt's case he's driven by greatness, by the team's success, and because of that we felt comfortable making an investment of this nature."
Friedman made a similar investment with Evan Longoria in 2008 when, just six games into the third baseman's big league career, he signed a contract which guarantees $17.5 million over six years and could balloon to $44 million if the team picks up the three options years on the back end.
The risk with a pitcher, though, is much greater, especially when that pitcher has appeared in only four major league games.
"It's very unusual to make a commitment of this sort to a player with this limited amount of service," 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."
The deal represents the largest guaranteed money given to a player with major league service time that is less than two years.
In addition to a $500,000 signing bonus, Moore will get $1 million each of the first three years of the contract. His annual salary jumps to $3 million in 2015 and $5 million in 2016. Other incentives will bring the guaranteed portion of the contract up to $14 million, Friedman said.
The contract continues to escalate in the option years - to $7 million in 2017, $9 million in 2018 and $10 million in 2019.
The contract caps quite a year for Moore, who began 2011 at Double A Montgomery, continued at Triple A Durham then finished with the Rays, helping them catch the Red Sox on the final day of the season after pitching those three big innings at Fenway, then beating the Yankees in New York in his lone start before the postseason.
"If you had asked me a year ago or six months ago if I thought I could potentially sign a five-year guaranteed contract, I'd say there would have to be a lot of things that would change, and they did," Moore said. "A lot of things fell into place to put me where we are."
Moore said he was certainly surprised when Friedman called his agent, Matt Sosnick, three weeks ago with an initial offer. Moore didn't even tell his family about it until he had a week to digest the numbers. Even then, he didn't make his decision until Sunday night.
"I think that he was surprised that everything's come about so quickly," Sosnick said. "His life has really been fast-forwarded. This is one of those things you don't generally expect as a 22-year-old."
In addition to Longoria and now Moore, Friedman signed second baseman Ben Zobrist and pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to similar contracts that are team-friendly, and where the players gave up their arbitration years and first few seasons of free agency for the security that comes with guaranteed money.
Moore asked Shields for advice, and Shields said he never once regretted the move.
"This doesn't make me feel like now I'm going to be here a long time," Moore said. "Tomorrow's not guaranteed. I'm going to play this game as long as I can. They money, I can't spend $40 million in a lifetime. If I do get to the point where all the options are exercised that means I'm pitching well and I'm healthy and all the questions are answered."