The Matt Moore Situation
No one thought we would be here.
Not after the first game of the 2011 ALDS, when a 22-year-old Matt Moore, making just his second big league start, shutout the powerful Texas Rangers lineup over seven innings. One of the top prospects in baseball had made his name known on the national stage and it seemed like he wouldn't be leaving it anytime soon.
The Rays, ever proactive in locking up young talent for less than market value, signed Moore to a 5-year, $14 million extension in December 2011. The next two seasons were successes, starting 58 games with an ERA just north of 3.50. He would undergo Tommy John surgery in April of 2014 and has not been the same since. Tommy John success stories get publicized, Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey for examples, to the point where it is expected a pitcher will come back as good as or better than before. Moore is evidence that is not the case.
He made twelve starts in returning from surgery last season and posted an unflattering 5.43 ERA. His final four starts were excellent and gave hope for improvement in 2016. Unfortunately that has not happened as his ERA currently sits at 5.56. This piece is not going to attempt to identify what his issues are and how to correct them. We are here to discuss what the hell the Rays do with Moore from this point forward.
Let's break down the options.
The team has been flirting with .500 all season and the pitching has surprisingly been lackluster. Having too many starting pitchers is a great problem to have, but it is still a problem. The rotation currently lines up as Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, and Matt Andriese. That is not including Erasmo Ramirez, who started 27 games last season and is currently the fireman in the bullpen, top prospect Blake Snell who made a fairly impressive spot start late April, or Alex Cobb who will be coming back from Tommy John surgery in the latter part of this season.
Someone has to go eventually. Archer was one of the best pitchers in baseball last season and is signed to a very team friendly contract. Odorizzi is not yet eligible for arbitration and has been a good, steady contributor in his year and a half in the rotation. Smyly comes with some injury concerns and has another couple years of arbitration which could get costly if he reverts back to how he pitched last season. Andriese is a rookie and could fill in the backend of the rotation at a cheap price for a couple more seasons. Moore makes $6 million this season and has a $7 million team option for 2017, $9 million for 2018, and $10 million for 2019. While those dollar amounts are not a lot for most teams, for example Anibal Sanchez has a salary of $16 million and an ERA north of 6, they are for the Rays if the player is not pitching like David Price.
If the Rays are trying to shop Moore his performance certainly is not helping his case, though his walk rate is at a career low. Would the team trade him right now if given a decent offer, or hang onto him and hope his performance rebounds enough so he is more attractive come the trade deadline?
Move him to the bullpen
The Rays bullpen has been a mess outside of Alex Colome and Ramirez. It is possible Moore could excel in relief like Wade Davis circa 2012, being able to really unleash his fastball and focusing on fewer pitches. His salary would make this option seem unlikely, and would limit his trade value if he did succeed in the role.
Option him to the minors
He was optioned to AAA Durham in August last season after his poor post-surgery performance to fine tune things. He still retains an option and the Rays may feel they can better contend for a playoff spot with Blake Snell in the rotation than Moore and his near 6.00 ERA. It may also give them and Moore additional time to fix any mechanical or sequencing issues that may be lingering.
Leave him be
The Rays know Moore better than any of us. If they feel he is just a tweak or two from turning the corner back to success then they can ride it out with him in the rotation. If they fall out of contention then letting him work out the kinks in the big leagues instead of against replacement players at AAA might be the way to go.
Whatever the team decides to do, the fact remains there is still a young, talented pitcher who has struggled for the better part of two seasons now and we have no idea what the hell they are going to do about it.