It happens every time the Tampa Bay Rays sign a young player to a ridiculously club-friendly contract. Rival agents howl, wondering how one of their brethren could agree to such a one-sided deal.
Left-hander Matt Moore, who reached a five-year, $14 million agreement with the team on Friday, is the fourth Ray with less than two years of service to sign long-term at a steep discount.
The player in such instances gets financial security — and $14 million is no small sum. But many agents object to the price a player must pay for that security — the surrender of his best-paying years.
Moore, 22, received the largest guarantee ever for a pitcher with less than two years of service. But — like Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis — gave the Rays three club options that include arbitration and free-agent years.
Athletics left-hander Brett Anderson, who signed a similar contract in April 2010 and underwent Tommy John surgery just over a year later, is an example of how such a deal can protect a player’s earning power. Shields and Longoria are examples of how shortsighted these contracts can be.
Shields will earn $13.75 million in his three arbitration years and $21 million in what would have been his first two years of free agency — far less than he would have earned by staying healthy and going year to year.
Longoria, who will earn $12.5 million in his arbitration years and $22.5 million in what would have been his first two years of free agency, is an even bigger steal.
In 2014, Longoria will attain five years of service and qualify for his fourth year of arbitration — a potentially lucrative combination. The Rays hold a $7.5 million option on him for that season with a $3 million buyout — a net value of $4.5 million.
By contrast, Prince Fielder earned $15.5 million last season as a five-plus player. Two years from now, the number for Longoria might have been even higher, but he won’t even get near Fielder’s figure in his first two free-agent years. The Rays hold options on him for $11 million and $11.5 million.
No one should feel sorry for Longoria, who agreed to a $17.5 million guarantee after appearing in only six major-league games. Moore has appeared in a total of only five games, three in the regular season.
Like Longoria, Moore protected himself. The question is at what cost.
— Ken Rosenthal