Feb. 3: The Phillies have announced the deal.
Jan. 29, 9:50am: Moore’s deal comes with a $3MM base salary and additional incentives, tweets The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
9:39am: The Phillies have agreed to a Major League contract with free-agent left-hander Matt Moore, reports Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia (via Twitter). The Apex Baseball client spent the 2020 season pitching in Japan, where he fared quite well. His deal with the Phillies is pending a physical.
Moore’s career hasn’t played out the way that anyone expected it to back when he was ranked alongside Bryce Harper and Mike Trout among the game’s top three prospects. Both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, in fact, once ranked Moore as the game’s No. 1 overall farmhand.
Certainly, Moore looked to be well on his way to making good on that billing. The lefty made his big league debut as a 22-year-old with the Rays in 2011 and punched out 15 hitters in 9 1/3 innings of work down the stretch as part of Tampa Bay’s push to the postseason. He went on to make two appearances (one start) in the ALDS that year, tossing 10 innings and yielding just one run against the Rangers.
From 2011-13, Moore pitched 337 innings and turned in a 3.53 ERA/4.11 SIERA while punching out a solid 23.1 percent of opponents with a slightly more problematic 11.1 percent walk rate. Still, for a pitcher in his early 20s and heralded as a future ace, Moore looked very much to be on the rise. He made the All-Star team in 2013, finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting and was poised to front the Tampa Bay rotation for the foreseeable future — health permitting.
Unfortunately, that injury caveat reared its ugly head; Moore lasted just 10 innings in 2014 before going down with an ulnar collateral ligament tear. The resulting Tommy John surgery wiped out the rest of Moore’s 2014 season and most of his 2015 campaign. And while it’s common today for people to assume that every pitcher bounces back from Tommy John surgery, Moore is proof that’s certainly not the case.
After returning from the surgery, Moore struggled through an ugly 2015 season that culminated in a 5.43 ERA over 63 frames. He bounced back in 2016 enough for the Rays to be able to trade him to the Giants, but Moore’s struggles picked right back up in 2017. He bounced from San Francisco to Texas over the next couple of seasons, pitching poorly on both stops, before settling for a one-year, make-good deal with the Tigers in 2019. That match was out to a beautiful start — 10 scoreless innings — when Moore suffered a torn meniscus while fielding a grounder. The subsequent surgery to repair his knee brought his 2019 season to a close.
After an unsightly three-year run from 2017-19, Moore might’ve been relegated to minor league deal territory had he stayed in North American ball, but he secured a $3.5MM guarantee to pitch for Nippon Professional Baseball’s SoftBank Hawks in Japan. The deal worked out quite well, as Moore not only landed a bigger payday but fared brilliantly in his audition while getting in a larger workload than most MLB pitchers in last year’s pandemic-shortened season.
With the Hawks, Moore pitched to a 2.65 ERA in 13 starts and 78 innings of work. He missed two months due to a calf strain, as NPB scribe Jim Allen noted at the time of his return, but that was early in the year and Moore finished out quite well. The lefty fanned 28 percent of his opponents and walked just 7.4 percent of them, both of which would be quality marks in the Majors.
Add in the pair of rehab outings he made with the Hawks’ minor league club, and Moore’s total of 85 frames last year would’ve led the Majors. Only three pitchers even eclipsed 80 innings in 2020, and just 17 topped the 70-inning mark. It’s not a major discrepancy, but the Phillies surely view that slightly increased workload as a benefit. Staff leaders Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler both tossed 71 innings last year, but prior to agreeing to sign Moore, Zach Eflin (59 innings) was the only other pitcher on the Phils’ current roster that even exceeded 35 frames.
Moore likely slots into the rotation behind Nola, Wheeler and Eflin. He’ll give Vince Velasquez and top prospect Spencer Howard some experienced competition for the final two rotation spots, although it’s likely that all three will start a significant number of games for the Phillies in 2021 as the club looks to be judicious with its pitchers’ workloads. Philadelphia also picked up veterans Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell on minor league deals recently, and further depth additions seem quite possible based on recent comments from new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.