Matt Moore, Texas Rangers starting pitcher and former top prospect, was awful yesterday, the second time in two starts he’s been bad. Tony Barnette, Texas Rangers relief pitcher, appears due to return from the disabled list on Sunday. And I find myself wondering if Moore could be bumped from the roster to make room for Barnette.
To be clear, I don’t think that Moore is going to be flat released at this point. The Rangers think enough of his ability that they acquired him this offseason and agreed to pay him $9 million for the 2018 season, they are low on starting pitching depth, and Moore has had success in the past. I doubt that a bad spring and two bad starts are enough to make them willing to cut bait with him.
I do wonder, though, if the Rangers feel Moore would be a candidate for a short disabled list stint. The Dodgers, in 2017, showed that the new 10 day d.l. can be used to effectively expand the number of pitchers you can have available, even if they don’t have options available, and I imagine the Rangers are planning on using that as a way to juggle some of their non-optionable pitchers, at least in the early part of the season. The Rangers could option Matt Bush, though he’s one of the better relief options on the roster, and the Rangers already sent down one of their better relievers (Jose Leclerc) because he could be optioned. Jesse Chavez or Bartolo Colon be released, but I don’t think Texas is ready to lose that depth just yet.
So manufacturing a trip to the disabled list for Moore could be an option. Moore’s spot doesn’t come up again until Wednesday, and Bartolo Colon could get a spot start there in his place. With a Thursday off day, you could arrange the rotation so that spot in the rotation doesn’t come up again until Tuesday, April 17. You could back date the d.l. stint for Moore so that he can come back after missing just one start. And you could, at least in theory, send him to Round Rock or Frisco to get a start in where he can work on his command and throw 100 pitches in a less stressful environment, without the risk of getting pulled early because the major league team is trying to win a game.
One could argue -- and it has been argued — that Moore, at this point, should be replaced by Colon anyway, that Moore was bad last year and he should work out his problems in the Colon/Chavez long relief role. That doesn’t address the issue of clearing up a roster spot for Barnette, however (unless you’re going to release or d.l. Chavez), and it also ignores the fact that there’s a good chance Colon isn’t really any better than Moore over the course of the 2018 season anyway.
Yes, Matt Moore was bad in 2017 -- in 31 starts and 1 relief appearance, he put up a 5.52 ERA and a 76 ERA+ in 174.1 IP. But Colon was even worse in 2017 -- he had a 6.48 ERA and a 66 ERA+ in 143 innings over 28 starts. Yes, Colon had a nice spring, and a good start against the Oakland A’s. But I’m not sure that he’s going to be materially better than Moore going forward. Colon might be a short-term solution, but that’s all he is. Moore is 28, has better stuff than Colon, has had success in the not-too-distant past, and can be brought back for 2019 on a $10 million team option.
Yes, Moore may be irredeemably broken, lost beyond repair, and running him out there may be a waste of time. But I suspect the Rangers would rather give Moore some more time to figure out whether he is salvageable rather than go with Colon for the same reason they opted to look at Ryan Rua and Drew Robinson in left field instead of bringing back Carlos Gomez -- they don’t see the veteran as enough of an upgrade to move the needle on contending in 2018, and they want to evaluate players who can help them down the road.
Moore isn’t going to get all of 2018 to figure it out. Texas isn’t going to run him out there for 30 starts if he can’t consistently get out of the fourth inning. But I do think he’s going to get more than two starts, given the Rangers’ priorities this year. Texas has coveted Moore for years, pursued him in 2016 when the Rays traded him to San Francisco, and seems to think that there’s something there to work with. Maybe they skip a start so that they can work with him on his mechanics or give him a chance to get some work in in AAA, but I will be surprised if they are ready, at this point, to move on from him altogether.