There has to be Mo[o]re to this deal.

See what I did there? “Moore” to this deal? I shoulda been in advertising. If Sterling Cooper were real, and I was alive 50 years ago, I’d be kicking Paul Kinsey’s tail up-and-down the office with my zingers. Right?

I digress.

I have been pondering Matt Moore’s 8-year deal for several days and there is something about it that isn’t quite right. Sure, Moore is a phenomenal talent. Sure, the Rays and Moore have a joint interest in sharing the risk of Moore’s future. So, it makes sense that everyone just assumes this fits the Rays business model of locking up young talent long-term at below-market prices. Predictably, all the analysis has put Moore right in line behind James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and Wade Davis.

But this deal is different.

Shields/CC/Kazmir, and to a lesser extent Davis, were established Major League entities when they signed their extensions. Longoria had only played 6 games in the big leagues but, those 6 games came after a long stint at AAA that pushed back his arbitration clock an additional year. None of that is true for Moore. In fact, he doesn’t even have any significant time in AAA.

But, experience isn’t what makes the Moore deal unique, it’s the timing. It makes no sense. Why do this deal in December rather than, say, March or May?

Think about it. Everyone and their mother knows that the Rays are likely to trade a pitcher this offseason. There are six starting pitchers for five spots (Shields, Price, Hellickson, Davis, Niemann, Moore). Friedman has to deny that he is going to trade a starter to ensure that any market exists for the starter he has to trade. He has to drive down supply by convincing the league that he’ll keep all six. (At some point, there was some discussion of converting one of the six to a closer role but, that ended when we brought back Kyle Farnsworth.)

Moore was the x-factor keeping the trade demand for Niemann/Davis artificially high. There was a legitimate reason to start Moore in AAA despite his 2010 success. A team might be inclined to buy Niemann/Davis at a fair or inflated price if they really believed Moore would be in AAA. This deal ended Moore’s flexibility right in the heat of the hot stove season. By signing this deal, Moore is guaranteed a 2011 roster/rotation spot. That necessarily drives down the trade price of Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann, right? If another GM knows we HAVE to move or release a pitcher, instead of just wanting to move one, he’s going to pay less. Still with me?

That’s why a December announcement is so bizarre. The Rays absolutely undermined the market for their assets by increasing supply. (and, based on this morning’s paper, it was the Rays, not Moore, that opened the conversation) That is so non-Extra-2% it’s crazy. They have to have thought of this problem. So why do it when they could have accomplished the exact same long-term end with Moore in March?

My first thought was the stadium issue. Perhaps the Rays were hoping to combat some negative storyline that has been developing about their failure to invest in the future of the team. Perhaps the Moore extension would be seen as “hey, we’re in this for the long-haul, are you [local government official]?” But, that can’t be it because there hasn’t been a significant stadium story since October and, no one is talking about baseball stadiums in December.

That leads me to one, crazy, wildly speculative conclusion. Pardon me for a moment while I put on my tin-foil hat to keep the government from reading my thoughts. The Rays didn’t care about the market-price for Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann. They announced this deal to drive UP the trade price of David Price.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the Rays should trade David Price. In my mind, he could be the ultimate “sell-high” candidate at this point. He really hasn’t developed a second pitch and, it seems like teams are onto his fastball. Also, his delivery reminds me a lot of Scott Kazmir, which makes me worry about injuries in a way that I do not worry about Shields/Hellickson/Moore/Davis.

With Moore, a potential front-of-the-rotation guy, locked up until my toddlers are in Middle Schoool, the Rays can have an open discussion about Price’s trade value without generating a torch-and-pitchfork market bubble. They have to know that trading David Price will be unpopular, even if it makes baseball sense. (Hell, I am afraid that the guy on the sidewalk in front of my house is going to throw a bring at me for even typing this.) But, locking up their number 1 (Shields) and numbers 1a and 1b (Hellickson and Moore) blunts the impact of Price’s departure. Having Moore in the tent opens the door for Friedman to shift the conversation from Davis/Niemann to Price when other GMs call. Is this a totally insane discussion?

I have no idea what is going to happen. And I am open to any other ideas for an 8-year December extension for a AA starting pitcher. Seriously. Tell me what you think is going on. Because I feel like I am taking crazy pills.

One rule, though. When you comment below. Please begin your comment with a disclaimer warning us whether or not we need our tin-foil hat before reading. After all, we don’t want the government to know our secrets. Right? [I fear I have said too much already].

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