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Cleveland's 'unfinished business' includes signing Masterson

Cleveland's 'unfinished business' includes signing Masterson
Justin Masterson (Photo:
March 24, 2014
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With Opening Day right around the corner in Cleveland, an excitement persists throughout Northeast Ohio for the upcoming Indians season that hasn’t been seen in many years.

After fans welcomed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Tribe last offseason, they were introduced to young phenom Danny Salazar, saw breakout campaigns from Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, among others, and watched the Indians roll to a 92-win season that ended with the first postseason game in Cleveland in six years.  Baseball was back in Cleveland. 

It’s been almost six months since Alex Cobb quieted Progressive Field in a heart-breaking wild card loss for Cleveland.  The team, now in Goodyear, Arizona, still has that game clearly on their minds.  The players have been sporting t-shirts with the motto “Unfinished Business” -- a call to extending their run from last year to winning a World Series championship in 2014.  While they’ll need good health, a few bounce-back years from guys like Swisher, Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera, and (as with any champion) some luck along the way, the Indians enter this season as legitimate contenders. 

However, they have some unfinished business to take care of off of the field if they plan to keep that window open beyond this season.  That unfinished business is, of course, keeping Justin Masterson in Cleveland. 

Masterson’s contract negotiations have been well-documented this offseason.  All along he has maintained his desire to stay where he is and the Indians have said that they want him to stay as well.  However, when Homer Bailey signed a six-year, $105 million extension with the Reds, everyone assumed Masterson was as good as gone.  Bailey is seen by many as a decent comparison to Masterson, therefore the expectation was that Masterson would seek the same contract, if not more. 

But then Masterson did the unexpected, saying he’d accept a deal with lesser years, with two- and three- year deals believed to be offered by Masterson’s camp.  After two weeks of little new information coming out about the situation, talks were cut off on Friday saying no deal could be reached. 

Both sides have left the window open for further negotiations, but for now, it seems as if the Indians are willing to wait until this offseason and take their chances on potentially losing Masterson.  It’s a game of chicken I’m not sure the Indians can afford to play, nor should they.  It’s rare that a pitcher seen by most as front-of-the-rotation quality (and entering his prime years) is willing to accept a contract below market value. 

Yes, it is still a lot of money.  Yes, it will push the payroll up higher.  And we’ll be honest: no, attendance probably won’t boost much from the signing.  Every long-term contract extension comes with some risk.  However, with Masterson willing to sign a contract shorter in length, some of that risk is alleviated.  It also allows the team, should they choose, to move on from Masterson in a few years when some of the other younger players start hitting arbitration. 

Let’s not forget too that if the team underperforms and the contract becomes one they are simply no longer able to afford, they would surely have plenty of suitors on the trade front. 

However, the Cleveland Indians -- from the Dolan family to Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti to Terry Francona and the players themselves -- all say the goal is to win a World Series.  The pieces are certainly there.  Kipnis, Swisher, Bourn, Carlos Santana, and Vinnie Pestano are all under team control through 2017.  Salazar, Brantley, Cody AllenYan GomesCorey Kluber, and Zach McAllister are locked up under team control even further down the road.  The only other soon-to-be free agent is Cabrera, and the Indians have prize prospect Francisco Lindor waiting to take his place next year (or possibly sooner).

The missing piece is Masterson, a workhorse who can anchor a staff, a guy you can feel confident rolling with in the biggest games on the biggest stage, the perfect leader of a talented young rotation.  Without him the Indians would be relying on a lot of youth. Kluber and McAllister both project as solid middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, Josh Tomlin seems to be more of a fourth or fifth option, and Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer have yet to fulfill their potential at this point.  Only Salazar has shown flashes of being an ace (and I think he will be), but he still has only started 11 games in the big leagues. 

Signing Masterson to an extension will take the Indians out of their comfort zone, but sometimes you need to do that in order to achieve great accomplishments -- in this case, building a team good enough to win it all.  It’s time for the Indians front office to follow through on their plan that started with bringing in Francona, Swisher, and Bourn, to change the culture, to show the players, fans, and Major League Baseball they are serious about winning a World Series. 

Nick Swisher’s shirts are accurate in more ways than one -- the Indians have some unfinished business to take care of, both on and off the field.

User Comments

March 26, 2014 - 3:12 PM EDT
This is Groundhog's many times have the Indians actually waited until the offseason to sign a top players and ACTUALLY signed him. Hmmm, the names Martinez, Belle, Ramirez, Lee, Sabathia, Choo, Peralta, and so on pretty much means the Masterson is LONG GONE after the 2014 season.
March 25, 2014 - 9:02 AM EDT
"It seem that if management keeps on signing Johnny Damon like David Murphy and waste 12 million on someone who cannot hit,"

Ouch...that's a low blow to Murphy comparing him to the Indians version of Johnny Damon...

If you want to compare Murphy to someone that's played for the Indians....Michael Brantley may be the better one. Murphy has actually been a better hitter though....and making nearly the same in 2014 and 2015... :)
March 25, 2014 - 7:47 AM EDT
I think that we should try to keep Masterson and sign him to a three year/42 million extension. He can start or pitch relief at a very high level. It seem that if management keeps on signing Johnny Damon like David Murphy and waste 12 million on someone who cannot hit, we could give that money to Masterson. Hey that would mean only 30 million needed to make 42 million. The management uses more personality then
field to keep their player, and don't want to admit their mistakes like previous years pitcher like Brett Myers. Keeping Big G, who I love, but time and not playing a position, which hurt the team take a spot for a position player. Big G can not play forever or can he?
March 24, 2014 - 3:55 PM EDT
" I'm just not in the 'mood' today to let the Dolans, and whoever else is responsible for fielding a winning team and came to the decision to offer JM something they knew he wouldn't sign, off the hook so easily, given the fact that a reasonable deal was right there in their lap"

See this is my're saying the deal that Masterson and his team proposed was reasonable and that they knew he wouldn't sign the deal they proposed...

One can easily argue that the deal the Tribe proposed is even more reasonable and that Masterson and his agent proposed a deal they knew the Tribe would not sign.

I don't think anyone here ever thought the Tribe was going to, or was capable of, signing Masterson to a deal worth $17M a year. Yet now somehow when the Indians decide to decline Masterson's offer of a $17M a year deal it's some how all Dolan's fault we don't have Masterson signed?!?

I'm sorry, but fail to see how this is Dolan or the Tribe's fault. We'll have to agree to disagree though. You have a right to be upset over this...just think you're misplacing that frustration.

And again, I still think people are being way too premature on getting upset...Masterson is not gone. When he gets a QO next winter (if not traded), we'll see what offers come his way. I'd be surprised if they were much more than what guys like Nolasco, Jackson, Ubaldo, and Garza got....
March 24, 2014 - 3:08 PM EDT
Ok, all good points Hermie.

I'm not saying that I think that Masterson is going to improve enough to be a $17m pitcher. I have no way of knowing that. I'm just saying that it could be very reasonable for someone to say, "we think that Justin will continue to make incremental improvements as he has been, and that, in what we think should be his best years as a pro (and operating in today's market, not CC's market), we think hat he will be worth ~ $34m to us over two years." It's also reasonable to come to a different opinion, I.e. that he won't be worth $17m.

Who knows if he will be worth that much, just as who knows if he'll be worth $28m over two years? It's a pretty big risk either way. Also, I'm not disappointed that we don't have JM for another three years, as I thought that there was no way he would forego a potential big pay day and sign w us.

As a fan though, I'm just not in the 'mood' today (and I know full well that my moods don't count for anything, other than my own personal happiness) to let the Dolans, and whoever else is responsible for fielding a winning team and came to the decision to offer JM something they knew he wouldn't sign, off the hook so easily, given the fact that a reasonable deal was right there in their lap. 8--)
March 24, 2014 - 2:49 PM EDT
At say $30 per extra ticket it would take 500,000 added attendance for $15 million. It is hard to see how that would happen.
March 24, 2014 - 2:24 PM EDT
"I know, Masterson's FOR status is debatable based on past performance, however, contracts look forward, not backward, and I think its extremely reasonable to think that Masterson will perform at a $17m value the next three years"

Curious what you're basing this off of though. Masterson wasn't worth $17M in 2013 (though barely) and it was his 2nd best year to date. Most "projections" have him closer to a $14M player going forward, not a $17M player. So while I agree the contract for Masterson should be about what we should expect going forward....I think it's debatable if he's really projected to be a $17M guy going forward. He definitely "could" be...don't get me wrong (I'm not a big fan of the projection systems out there). But think it's being optimistic to expect Masterson to be better every year from here thru the end of his contract than he was in 2013.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing the Tribe is looking at Masterson and only seeing a guy worth $14M going forward, not $17M (hence their offer).
March 24, 2014 - 1:48 PM EDT
True, that extension with CC did work out...the AAV was also only $8.75M per year (though he did make more due to winning the Cy Young in 2007)...nearly half what Masterson wants. CC was also much better than Masterson (and younger).

Point of brining up the CC extension is again showing how Masterson is not some saint offering the Tribe a great discount. Sure it's nice he is "willing" to take a short deal....course that very likely may have nothing to do with giving the Tribe a discount and more him trying to get another deal in after the CBA expires (as many in baseball/the media have speculated).

Don't think the Tribe is avoiding a 2 or 3 year deal with Masterson (they seemed willing to give him a 2 year with an option)...they are avoiding a 2-3 year deal at $17M. Big difference.

Also, teams do sign guys based off stuff. Not the only reason they sign a guy though (agree they sign them based on value going forward...which is something the Tribe appears to be doing with Masterson). Moot point as was more pointing out just how much better CC was than Masterson (he not only had better stuff, was more of a workhorse and had less risk involved).

March 24, 2014 - 1:36 PM EDT
Indians did put up money in signing in Swisher and Bourn to large contracts. Went on to win 92 games and the fans did not show up. So the message the FO received is does not matter if you spend money or not we will not show up.

Everyone say the Reds over paid for Bailey and that he is one pitch away of injury in which the Reds would have a financial mess.

That would also pertain to Masterson if the Indians did sign him to 3 yr deal at 17 million. If that happens expect a very quite off seasons to come unless the team continues to win and if the fans get tired of being ranked 28th in attendance.
March 24, 2014 - 1:24 PM EDT
Also, if you want to use Sabathia as a comparable (as opposed to the Nagys and Westbrooks of the world), it seems to me that that extension worked out pretty well. No?
March 24, 2014 - 1:22 PM EDT
Great! It did happen. Fantastic. Once? And, the Tribe signed him! Proves the point even better. Which should probably be: It almost never happens, and if it does, it never happens that a team turns down this opportunity. Or, can you find one of those too? (btw, people don't sign pitchers to extensions because of their "stuff", they sign them based on a benefit / risk analysis, and the perception of relative value going forward)
March 24, 2014 - 1:03 PM EDT
"What changed everything for me was that the possibility of a two year contract. For a non-injured, in his prime, all-star, FOR pitcher, this is unheard of. Basically, it never happens. Never."

CC Sabathia agreed to a 2 year extension covering his first 2 free agent years actually...CC was actually a two-time All-Star with even better stuff...
Gary Beckerman
March 24, 2014 - 12:55 PM EDT
I agree that it would be a mistake not to extend Masterson, especially on a short 2-3 year deal. He is strong, healthy and in his prime and they would still have the option of getting a 1st round pick or compensation in trade should things go poorly for the Tribe over the next 2 years. His signing has value. What has not been mentioned enough is the message that it sends to other prospective free agents and current team stars if the Tribe does not get this done. It would hurt their momentum out of the gate and I believe will have an impact on their on field performance, at least for the first couple of weeks. Yes, they are all professionals but why mess with such superb team chemistry. Yes the Tribe front office should send a clear message to the fans that it is serious about trying to win and not just be competitive and hoping for a miracle.

Get the Masterson signing done, and sooner than later!
March 24, 2014 - 12:49 PM EDT
I totally agree that signing masterson is absolutely necessary. there are big market teams that will need a top starting pitcher at the trade deadline and the numbers that have been thrown around if the wheels come off the wagon there would be trading partners to give us prospects that we may need for masty if the wheels come off the wagon. If the team continues to win 90+ games the fans will flock to the JAKE(i refuse to call it anything but the Jake) and that will more than offset the cost of extending masty. I see a win/win situation here but it starts with having masty. Even if he is a number 2 starter and someone jumps ahead of him---he did lead the american league in shutouts in '13---- that signifies his stuff is top of the rotation at times and the quality start percentage in 13 had to be in the 15 in the major leagues. I know it isnt my money but i see it with a fresh perspective here in toledo metro.
March 24, 2014 - 12:44 PM EDT
Thanks Steve. Makes sense to me.

What changed everything for me was that the possibility of a two year contract. For a non-injured, in his prime, all-star, FOR pitcher, this is unheard of. Basically, it never happens. Never.

(I know, Masterson's FOR status is debatable based on past performance, however, contracts look forward, not backward, and I think its extremely reasonable to think that Masterson will perform at a $17m value the next three years)

For the Tribe to not be able to step up and meet this unique opportunity -- worse than that, they couldn't even offer the guy an amount equal to the QO!! -- is truly pathetic.
March 24, 2014 - 12:40 PM EDT
Hopefully Swisher, ACab and Bourn will have bounce back seasons and perform more to their past norms. All certainly are still young enough to do so. It would be nice to see Chiz fulfill some of his promise, and put up Casey Blake type of hitting numbers.

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