Posted on: February 25, 2012 4:01 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 4:01 pm

Mature Matt Moore ready to become a big-time star

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.

Category: MLB
Tags: Matt Moore, Rays
Posted on: February 23, 2012 3:31 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 3:44 pm

The Winter Standings, from 1 through 30

The Angels and Marlins spent plenty, the Astros stood pat, and the Mets did worse than that. Here they, one through 30, from most improved team to least improved.

1. Angels. Anytime you add Albert Pujols when you don't really need a first baseman, that's quite a luxury buy. Maybe 10 years are too many, but he'll obviously make a major impact in the first years of that deal. C.J. Wilson gives them as good a first four as just about anyone. Plus, he comes directly from the main competitor.

2. Marlins. Jose Reyes is a monster get, when healthy, Mark Buehrle fits as the perfect veteran lefthander to pitch behind Josh Johnson and Heath Bell is a very good closer. Ozzie Guillen spices things up. Much more interesting team as they move to their new park.

3. Diamondbacks. Loved that they didn't rest on their laurels. Trevor Cahill bolsters their rotation and Jason Kubel their lineup. Also tried hard for Hiroki Kuroda, offering him $13 million, $3 million more than he got from the Yankees. Terrific effort by a team in an area hit hard by the economic downturn.

4. Nationals. I don't love Gio Gonzalez's 1.48 lifetime road WHIP, but he's a talented, young lefthanded starter who's exactly what they needed. Of course, they still could use a center fielder.

5. Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda is the solid starter they needed, and Michael Pineda has a chance to be better than that, especially if he masters his changeup. Jesus Montero will be a mega star but they needed the pitching, so it was a worthwhile gamble. A.J. Burnett is addition by subtraction.

6. Rockies. Michael Cuddyer is a huge get, even if he did cost $31.5 million over three years. Jeremy Guthrie steps in as the Opening Day starter and Tyler Chatwood has a chance, though rotation questions still remain. Casey Blake might not have a lot left at third base, but super prospect Nolan Arenado looks to be close.

7. Rangers. Yu Darvish is going to be better than Wilson. They flirted with Prince Fielder, but came up a few years short. Had they pulled that one off, too, they would have easily topped this list. A lefthander in the pen wouldn't have hurt, either.

8. Rays. Carlos Pena will bring a lot more punch than Casey Kotchman, and if healthy, Luke Scott brings more still. Somehow, they find a way.

9. Blue Jays. Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver represent a nice bullpen upgrade over Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. Never made the huge deal folks were expecting, though.

10. Reds. They gave up a lot for Matt Latos, a talented pitcher who'll have to adjust going from pitching-firendly PETCO Park to Great American Ballpark. The pen is better with Ryan Madson in as the closer and strong lefty Sean Marshall over from Chicago. Looks like a contender.

11. Tigers. Owner Mike Ilitch gets props for the $214-million, nine-year band-aid he bought in Fielder after Victor Martinez's brutal knee injury.

12. Phillies. They imported Jonathan Papelbon, who has a longer track record, to replace Ryan Madson. Jim Thome fills the resident nice guy role left vacated by Brad Lidge's departure (and Juan Pierre won't hurt in that dept. either, assuming he makes the team). They have more versatility with Ty Wigginton adding to their bench strength.

13. Pirates. The new killer B's are here -- Rod Barajas, Erik Bedard, Clint Barmes and A.J. Burnett. The Bucs certainly should be better.

14. Mariners. Hong-Chih Kuo, Shawn Camp and Hisashi Iwakuma have a chance to help. But their offseason will turn on whether Montero becomes a bigger star than Pineda. The guess here is, he does.

15. Padres. They maximized the Latos trade. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal could become stars, and Brad Boxberger may be the closer of the future. Huston Street ably replaces Bell. And Carlos Quentin may thrive back in his hometown.

16. Cubs. David DeJesus is a solid outfielder, and Paul Maholm will help. But their winter will turn on whether slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the player they think he is. The real loss for them was the new rule limiting bonus pools for drafted players.

17. Royals. Jonathan Sanchez is just the type of high-ceiling pitcher who fits, Bruce Chen was needed back and Jonathan Broxton is worth a flyer.

18. Dodgers. They managed to cut to below $90 million as cash-strapped Frank McCourt sells the team, but they pieced it together pretty well. Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are solid starters but most of the other imports are extras. They also made an exciting secret grab at Fielder but were outbid by the Tigers. Their best move, though, was signing Matt Kemp for eight years at $160 million,

19. Indians. Given the restrictions of the budget, not terrible. Casey Kotchman looks to be on the upswing, and Derek Lowe is a veteran presence needed especially now that Fausto Carmona is better known as Limbo Carmona.

20. Giants. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are late bloomers, and they might do as well as the combo of Caros Beltran, Andres Torres and Cody Ross. The comeback of Buster Posey is probably the biggest key. Also like the smaller pickups of Clay Hensley and Ryan Theriot.

21. Cardinals. It's hard to lose Pujols (not to mention Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan) and not feel it. But somehow, the Cardinals seem to find a way. Beltran replaces some of Pujols' lost offense, if not his presence. Adam Wainwright's return is the biggest addition, though.

22. Orioles. Nobody did more different things, but it's tough to evaluate or guess what Wei-Yin Chen or Tsuyoshi Wada will become. Wilson Betemit was an odd signing in that no one saw a two-year deal coming.

23. White Sox. Love the Robin Ventura move (though I suspect they should have made him take a more-experienced staff). The team will be a lot younger, too, with all the kids acquired for Santos and Quentin. Buehrle is tough to replace, though.

24. Braves. Their big deal was for utlityman Jack Wilson, which says a lot. Never found the right deal for Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado.

25. Twins. Josh Willingham has a lot of pressure on him to make up for the loss of Cuddyer and Kubel. Joe Nathan preferred to go to a contender. Not sure how much Jason Marquis has left.

26. Red Sox. I like the way they recovered from the loss of Papelbon by adding Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Cody Ross and Nick Punto are nice complementary pieces. But I think they'll miss Jason Varitek more than think. And they still don't have a No. 4 or 5 starter or starting shortstop after trading Marco Scutaro in exchange for "flexibility.'' Bobby Valentine was a great call for manager, and he does his best work when there are issues, so maybe he pulls it all together.

27. A's. They did a nice job collecting prospects (Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole could be stars) but will be hard-pressed to avoid 90 defeats this year after trading Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. Big Talent Yoenis Cespedes and Mannyball spice things up. Interesting offseason.

28. Brewers. Tough to make up for the loss of Fielder. Aramis Ramirez is a nice middle-of-the-order bat, Alex Gonzalez is an upgrade at shortstop and Nori Aoki may work. Also lost some bullpen depth with Takashi Saito and Hawkins gone.

29. Astros. They took a flyer on the oft-injured Fernando Martinez but after failing to unload Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee or Brett Myers, they basically return the same team. Which is not necessarily good news when you lost 106 games.

30. Mets. They lost the heart of the team (though an of-injured one), and Andres Torres wouldn't be my first choice to replace the dynamic Reyes. Actually, Pagan would have been better. But that's nitpicky. Let's face it, no one that cuts an unprecedented $50 million can do well.
Posted on: February 16, 2012 2:13 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 2:28 pm

Damon doesn't get why his phone is silent

Johnny Damon doesn't get it, doesn't get why he's not getting offers after the year he had. Damon didn't get why he didn't receive an offer from the incumbent Rays after he was a leader for them in the clubhouse and on the field, and now he doesn't get why he seemingly is running second as a candidate to be the Yankees' left-handed DH.

"I think it's a perfect fit,'' Damon said of the Yankees by phone. "But for some reason you have the year I had, especially with a team that has trouble scoring, and you can't even get a call to continue playing."

It is hard to blame Damon for feeling left out. The whole thing does seem very odd, indeed.

Damon said he never got an offer from the Rays even though he had a very nice year, hitting 16 home runs with 73 RBIs with 19 stolen bases and a .261 batting average while playing home games in the ballpark that was the best pitchers' park American League last year. He also put together an improbable streak of five consecutive games with game-winning hits and became a leader with the young team that had a magical finish. Now he is concerned that the Yankees are leaning toward someone else (namely Raul Ibanez), and indeed the team's baseball people do seem to be favoring Ibanez for the DH role even though it seems no final decision will be made until the Yankees complete the long-discussed deal with Pittsburgh to send A.J. Burnett out of town and save themselves about $13 million of the $33 million owed Burnett.

Meanwhile, different reasons have been heard why the Yankees favor Ibanez, one sillier than the next.

One reason heard is that Ibanez hit better against right-handed pitchers last year, and if you count .256 as better than .255, then yes, that is the case. But it seems like that would be far from a driving force in a decision.

Another is that Ibanez is a better defender at this stage, and while he might well be, Damon is faster and the reality is that they are probably pretty close to comparable at this point. Damon didn't play much defense last year when the Rays had better defensive alternatives such as Brandon Jennings, B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld. "When you have Jennings and Upton, of course I'm going to DH," Damon said. "When I played out there, I held my own."

But even if Ibanez is slightly better with the glove now, having played it regularly in Philly, defense seems like a funny way to pick a DH.

Yet another reason heard recently is that Damon's .326 on-base percentage last year is a sign he's thinking too much about 3,000 hits and not getting on like before. This is the winner for sheer ridiculousness of course, as Ibanez's 2011 on-base percentage of .289 (with 33 walks all year) would be the statistic of concern, not Damon's .326. Speaking of 3,000 and the suggestion he's too focused on it, Damon said, "It makes for good talk. ... Everyone wants to get to the mark. But I never started playing the game for that. I never had any intention of getting to 3,000 hits -- it's never been a driving force for me. I always had the intention of being a good teammate."

Damon is more than a fine teammate, he's been a key man on two World Series winners, the historic 2004 Boston Red Sox and the 2009 Yankees. Damon is a winner, always has been. Ibanez is by all accounts a very nice fellow, but Damon is a big clubhouse presence who always has been the one to stand up and answer the tough questions when things aren't going well.

Damon, who at 38 is also a year younger than Ibanez, may not be the defender he once was, but the job is for a DH, and Damon has all the experience at that. Damon also has a superb history in the American League East, having thrived for all three of the big teams in that division.

Damon and the Yankees had a very public breakup a couple winters ago when he was expected to wind up back in pinstripes. The sides never got together when a deal had once seemed like a foregone conclusion. But Yankees people say there are no lingering bad feelings.

It can't be about the money, either, because Damon hasn't gotten an offer. He said he didn't get one from Tampa, which gave Luke Scott a $5 million deal off an injury year, and he hasn't gotten one from the Yankees yet. So Tampa took Scott off a year of injuries, and Damon sees that Ibanez may get the job he wants after Ibanez's season of outs.

Damon is in Hawaii enjoying a planned vacation. But he has one eye on the phone.

"Hopefully it rings soon," he said, "and whether it rings in a few minutes or a few weeks, I'll be ready with the bat."

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 15, 2012 10:46 am

Maddon deal: Rays top trio together forever?

The Rays did the right thing locking up manager Joe Maddon for three more years through 2015, and also by getting it done before spring training to avoid even any spectre of a lame-duck situation. Of course, the Rays did the right thing. They always seem to.

Maddon's new three-year extension will be announced by the team today, and while the amount won't be divulged and may not be known for quite awhile, you have to know it's a good deal for Tampa. It's a good deal because Maddon may be the best manager in the game, but also because you know the Rays didn't set any new salary standard for the man who's done as good a job as anyone over the past four years. Maddon had a year to go at about $1.4 million, and industry speculation is that Maddon's new deal will pay him in the range of $2-3 million per year. (Rays GM Andrew Friedman declined to discuss the price, or the deal in any way before today's announcement, and they may in fact never divulge the money part).

The sides started talking about a new contract for Maddon way back in December, which was the safe thing to do it because even in cases where both sides want to get a deal done, you never know. They wanted to avoid a situation where Maddon's contract would be a story heading into spring. But mostly, of course, they wanted to ensure that Maddon would be their manager for many years. It's amazing they have made the playoffs three of the past four years in baseball's best division, and even more amazing they have won that division two of those years. It's uncanny how players seem to play better for Tampa under Maddon, and worse when they leave Tampa. The interesting, erudite Maddon sets the exact perfect tone. Rays people understand this.

Maddon and his bosses knew they had a good thing going. While Maddon splits winters between Tampa, California and his Pennsylvania hometown, he bought a house in South Tampa in the artsy part of town, perfect for him. He obviously appreciates the terrific job Friedman and Co. do of providing talent on a shoestring and has what's seen as the perfect owner-manager relationship with the low-key New Yorker Stu Sternberg.

The Rays do things their way, and it is turning out to be exactly the right way. Friedman operates without a contract and still turns down chances for bigger jobs in bigger markets (i.e. the Angels this winter). And Maddon gives up the chance to be the greatest free agent manager ever by signing a new deal with a year to go. It all works there to the point where you could see Maddon, Friedman and Sternberg staying together forever.
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