Matt Moore’s Service Time

The Rays' season is over, but Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore showed late this year that the 2012 edition of the team should once again feature electrifying talent. Even Tampa Bay players seem eager to see what Moore can do over the course of an entire season. One of them jokingly suggested to Yahoo's Jeff Passan that he'll take action if Moore isn't on the Rays' Opening Day roster next year.

"If they do that, I'll file a grievance," the player said.

Judging by Moore's minor league accomplishments and Major League success, he has earned the chance to continue pitching in the Majors. The 22-year-old lefty posted a 1.92 ERA with 12.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 155 minor league innings this year, solidifying his place as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Minor league hitters weren't the only ones who struggled to hit Moore; in 19 1/3 MLB innings (regular season and playoffs combined), he replicated his minor league success, posting a 1.86 ERA with 10.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9.

It's no secret that the Rays are struggling financially. Owner Stuart Sternberg said the Rays' revenue and stadium situation is "untenable as a model going forward," so every dollar and year of control matters a great deal in Tampa Bay. If the upcoming collective bargaining agreement doesn't adapt the current rules regarding arbitration and free agent eligibility, there would be an incentive for Tampa Bay to keep Moore in the minor leagues for a month to start next year – it would delay his arrival on the free agent market.

He picked up 17 days of service time in 2011, which means he'll have a full year of service after 2012 if he spends 155 days or more on the MLB roster or DL next year (pending the upcoming CBA). The MLB season generally lasts a little more than 180 days, so the Rays could ensure that Moore falls short of 155 days by optioning him to Durham for a month or so. He doesn't appear to need the seasoning, but that month would delay his free agency by one year (from 2017 to 2018).

This is not to imply that service time will be the lone, or primary consideration for the Rays in 2012. There are even baseball related reasons for keeping Moore in the minors (limiting innings, the diminished importance of fifth starters in April). The Rays want to win and have a team capable of contending again next year, so service time isn't everything. Plus, if they cared that much about delaying arbitration payouts and free agency, they would never have called Moore up to begin with.

Injuries, offseason moves and the CBA will presumably influence the Rays decision as well as service time. But for a team that can't afford free agent aces, the idea of extending control over top homegrown arms will likely have appeal.

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