The Sunday Drive with the 'Westbrook Rule'
Westbrook, Masterson and a solidified Indians' clubhouse
The Indians and Justin Masterson shut down talks this past week, as both sides hit a wall in negotiations for a long-term extension that would keep the club's most stable starter in Cleveland for the next several years.
In a bubble, I'm not sure that the move makes many waves with regards to what the Indians will or won't do. Of course, rarely do things happen in a bubble...especially with the Indians.
You see, there are many other stories afoot here that touch upon this Masty-story.
The Indians had two other free agent starters as the offseason began in Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. Kazmir signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Oakland A's early on in the offseason. Ubaldo signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Orioles pretty late in the offseason.
The Indians appeared to not be even remote players in signing either pitcher, leaving many scratching their heads, as the Indians had two fairly sizable holes to fill in their rotation, with fairly unknown commodities to replace them inDanny Salazar and whoever else you think has a shot at the #5 spot in the rotation.
Many made the connection that if the Indians weren't in on Ubie or Kazmir, it certainly had to be because they were planning on signed Masterson to a long-term extension.
Then they low-balled him on arbitration.
Then Homer Bailey signed one of the most ludicrous deals in recent memory, a six-year $15 million dollar deal that really threw the Indians money figures out the window with regards to an extension for Masterson, because Bailey and Masterson mirrored each other with regards to their recent numbers.
Then Masterson and his agent came out with a statement that they would look at a deal that would be cost or year-effective for the righty to stay in Cleveland with a new deal.
Then extension talks were put on hold, when neither side could concede anything more.
Supposedly, the Indians said they could do two-years and $28 million, while Randy Rowley said that the least they would accept is a two-year $35 million deal, but would rather have a three-year, $51 million deal.
In other words, they weren't close, no matter how some in the media and the message boards spin it. To the Indians, $3-t0-3 1/2 million a year is a lot of money.
While all of those "outside-the-bubble" factors were at play, the biggest didn't happen in 2014, or even in 2013.
The biggest factor happened seven seasons ago, and will call it the "Jake Westbrook Effect."
In April of 2007, the Cleveland Indians signed Jake Westbrook to a three-year, $33 million contract. At the time, it was considered a solid deal for the Indians for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons hinged on the fact that the rest of the league had gone pitcher crazy.
Barry Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.
Gil Meche signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Kansas City Royals.
Jason Schmidt signed a three-year, $47 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Jeff Suppan signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ted Lilly signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.
In years and cash, it was a big year for pitchers that had either overachieved to earn their bank, were past their prime after being ace-like, or just got lucky (I still can't figure out the Gil Meche deal).
Westbrook had come off of a three year stretch in which he had gone a total of 44-34 with a 4.01 ERA. His K/9 hovered right below five, but his walk per nine was sub-2.5, so he was nothing if not efficient. His 44 wins, while many would pooh-pooh them, were somewhat special in that he was tied for fifth most in the league during that stretch, behind Johan Santana, Kenny Rogers and Jon Garland. He was one of only four pitchers to win at least 14 games in each of those seasons, with Rogers, Santana and Clifford Phifer Lee.
He was solid, he was durable (210+ innings in each of the three seasons noted), and he was a guy that outworked everyone.
In other words, regardless of what you think about his numbers, he was likely in line to make some big-time money once his recently signed one-year deal ended at the end of the 2007 season.
Throughout the offseason, Westbrook talked about how much he loved playing in Cleveland. He talked about how much his wife was comfortable here, and that his family and infant son had a home in Cleveland.
The Indians and the media talked about the concessions that Westbrook was willing to make to stay, which primarily included less years (would be looking at a four-year deal at the very least in 2008), and perhaps a little less money, although you can legitimately argue that the $10-$11 million dollars that he ultimately got was right in the wheelhouse compared to what others had received prior to the 2007 season.
Of course, much of that would depend on what he did during that 2007 season in which he would be making $6.1 million (with a little of that $33 million tacked into that figure, as the Indians, if I remember right, frontloaded the deal).
You can certainly argue Westbrook's value comparable to the league, but the Indians clearly valued him as high or higher than several other starting pitcher candidates over the years. Don't misjudge what I meant there. I'm not saying Westbrook was the best starter the Indians had, but he did provide the Indians with a unique skill-set, and provided the Indians with an anchor to their rotation.
CC Sabathia was the anchor of the rotation, and he was signed for two-more seasons, but would no doubt leave at the end of 2008.
Cliff Lee was signed through the 2009 season, but had a 2010 club option for $8 million.
Paul Byrd was signed through the 2008 season, but had a 2009 club option for around $7 million.
Fausto Carmona was an unknown commodity, and the Indians really didn't know what they were going to get from him at the time.
Signing Westbrook would give the Indians two-solid starters (in their eyes) that could bridge the gap should Sabathia choose to leave after the 2008 season. If Carmona panned out, the Indians would have, in theory, along with Lee and Westbrook.
In other words, the Indians wouldn't HAVE to sign Sabathia.
What struck me the most about the deal were some of the things that Shapiro said after the deal. Shapiro is a know user of sabrmetrics, so this wasn't the type of deal that he loved making. He talked a lot about having the guts to put "statistics aside" to gamble on a pitcher with the stability of Westbrook.
Chris Antonetti, already being groomed as the heir apparent, was negotiating the deal.
You do have to wonder if this was a move that came about because of what happened to the Indians prior to the 2006 season. Kevin Millwood led the league in ERA in 2005, and expressed a desire to stay in Cleveland. His agent, Scott Boras, had visions of five-year deals in his head, and sure enough, that's what Millwood received from the Texas Rangers. Scott Elarton left as well, signing a two-year deal with the Royals.
I truly don't know how much those two deals, and in particular, the Westbrook deal had to do with the Indians signing Westbrook. Shapiro has never seemed to be a reactionary fellow, but you could certainly point to the confluence of losing starters and big-money signings as a reason that the Indians made the unprecedented extension with the moderately exceptional right-hander.
In 2007, Westbrook missed nearly two months, from May 2 through Jun 24th, but recovered sufficiently to allow the Indians to think that he was the same old Jake Westbrook they had always known, even though he only pitched in 152 innings that season.
They were wrong.
He only pitched in five games in 2008. He missed all of 2009. He returned in 2010 and struggled with the Indians before they dealt him to the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-team trade that netted them Corey Kluber.
In other words, for four years and nearly $40 million, the Indians received 51 middling starts and Corey Kluber. Perhaps you can look at Kluber as the qualifying offer, right?
The Indians had never offered a near-arbitration eligible pitcher a deal that they thought the aforementioned pitcher would sign until Westbrook, so it was a leap of faith move for Shapiro and Antonetti. In other words, it was very uncharacteristic for them...
...and it didn't pay off.
Fast-forward to 2014, and here we have Justin Masterson.
Masterson is certainly in a different position with respect to the club than was Westbrook back in 2007. Westbrook had Cliff Lee (who would struggle in 2007, but that wasn't a known commodity yet) and CC Sabathia, so it wasn't as though he was even looked at as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He was in many ways an anchor.
Masterson has Danny Salazar, a rookie that has only had two months of major league experience. He also hasZach McAllister and Corey Kluber, who have short-term stints as starters in the bigs, with mixed results thanks to, well, struggles, and, well injuries.
He's the de facto ace, thanks to Ubaldo and Kazmir's disappearance.
Is he dependable? Yes. Is he a 200 inning guy? Yes. Is he a hard worker? Yes.
So was Westbrook.
So where do they go from here? Perhaps the Indians will resume talks at some point in the next week, perhaps they won't. Perhaps Masterson is now on the table for a potential trade between now and the end of the season, should something amazing present itself. That's certainly not out of the question, but also not all that likely. What's interesting is that there are likely teams that would present Masterson with an acceptable contract out there, and now they have a good idea with what his numbers are. There may be a team out there that's willing to part with something enticing for a guy that can be a solidifying force in their rotation.
But the Indians don't have to do either.
They can easily wait this out, try and sign him to a deal at the end of the season, or more likely, just offer him the qualifying offer. It's not optimum by any standard, but fiscally, it may be the best approach, whether you agree with it or not. I certainly wanted the Indians to sign at least one of Scott Kazmir, Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez, and I'm fairly shocked that they didn't.
Still, when you look at the numbers presented by WFNY's Jacob Rosen, you can see that there may not be a lot of wiggle room.
Say what you want about the deal long term, it's a PR nightmare for the Indians. Of course, it's PR nightmare that's really created by low attendance numbers.
Talk about an intricate web we've weaved here in Cleveland.
Former IBI scribe Al Ciammaichella had an insightful interview with Indians' president Mark Shapiro, who shared his sentiments about Masterson:
"The things that I will say about Masty are that we appreciate him, we like him as a player, we respect him as a person and we want to keep him here. That’s never the question. The question is, can we do it at a level and still effectively build a team around him. So that’s more the challenge for us, when you look at a guy who has accomplished as much as he has accomplished and is staring free agency in the face."
So the Indians enter the 2014 season with questions in the rotation for sure, but none bigger than the guy at the top of the heap. Will he be here in 2015 and beyond?
Is that a good or a bad thing?
If there's one thing this past year has taught me, you just never know.
Think of it this way. The Indians and Masterson couldn't agree on a deal that would pay the lanky righty $14-to-$17 million a year. The Tigers and Max Scherzer tabled talks after one or both turned down a deal in the $24 million a year range, over seven years.
Different cities, different issues.
If you didn't think that the Cleveland Indians rolled out a clubhouse culture change when they brought aboardTerry Francona, Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi, you've likely changed your mind over the past seven days. The Cleveland Indians absolutely took a dynamic and dramatic shift in team mentality when they hired Terry Francona as their next manager shortly after the 2012 season.
I've talked about respect and and trust. I’ve talked about sustained success and strike throwing. I've talked about clubhouse leaders and domino effect.
That all became quite clear when perhaps baseball's best current writer, MLB's Anthony Castrovince, outlined an exchange between former Indians All-Star centerfielder Kenny Lofton, and current Indians’ leader, Nick Swisher, had what can only be stated as an altercation.
The ever-popular Lofton is a representative of the vaunted Indians ballclubs of the 90’s . In many respects, he is a living legend in these parts because of what he did at the top of the line-up for more than ten seasons here in Cleveland. He is one of the many stewards of that era that now returns to the North Coast or Goodyear to share his vast knowledge of how to win.
I'm not sure that's an accurate picture of what Lofton "does," but I think it's a fairly clear picture that most cities that have a "golden era" of any sport enjoy in the years after the aforementioned "golden era." The players return to bestow hope and knowledge to the players and the fans that long for that era.
That's not meant to sound condescending to the former stars, because I love their visits as much as the next fan. The Indians of the 90's are at the top of my Tribe Totem Pole, so they can pretty much say or do whatever they want.
Just not in the clubhouse, or anything related to it.
I’ve struggled with this over the years.
The memories of late-inning heroics from Albert Belle still remain fresh in my head. Mammoth blasts by Jim Thome are as vivid as my morning coffee. Does it not feel like it was just yesterday that we saw ‘Manny-being-Manny,’ Vizquel underhanding to Alomar, and Kenny Lofton motoring around third, and heading for home?
For most of us, the 90s Indians are our Indians, and until there is sustained success from a team in the present, nothing will measure up.
It’s flawed thinking to be sure, and while there are people out there that preach that the past-is-the-past, I’m sure the prevalent thought among most fans. When Belle, Lofton, Baerga and Thome return for their visits, there is a buzz. Even when the Indians re-hired Charles Nagy, it was good to see the pitcher with the most sustained success for those 90s clubs return to the fold.
This isn't abnormal at any level in any city.
When Omar was hired by the Tigers, we wondered why the Indians didn't reach out. When Thome headed off to the White Sox to work in their front office, many pondered why the Indians didn't do the same, especially with the Thome statue scheduled to go up in August.
I mention Thome and Vizquel because it was the club’s decision to bring them to Fan Fest this year that made me question whether or not it was time to ‘move on’ from those glory days of the 90s.
Omar had moved on, as he should have. The club allowed him to become a free agent after the 2004 season, and while there was speculation that he may return as a utility player, it never materialized. He still received standing ovations when he returned, but he is now a guy looking to earn a job in baseball management, and is doing it with the Indians’ top rival, the Detroit Tigers.
Thome had moved on as well. I don’t have to rehash how and why he left twelve years ago. Sure, Thome returned for a little over a month, and the boos turned to cheers as time healed the wounds for many who had closed the door on the first baseman after his departure. Thome retired, and perhaps has begun his journey in learning the ropes to become a General Manager someday, and is doing it with the Indians’ former top rival, the Chicago White Sox.
Vizquel and Thome returned to Fan Fest this year, even though they are currently working with another A.L. Central club. I understand that Thome was here to help promote the statue that would be going up. I understand that Vizquel was here because he was set to be inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame this year.
But it bugged me. It didn't bug some, and that's fine, but it bugged the hell out of me.
Don't get me wrong here, they will always be Indians’ greats. They will always bring forth incredible memories from the greatest Indians’ teams we’ve ever seen. But do we need to honor them while they are with other clubs, and division rivals to boot, during our Fan Fest at the beginning of our supposed quest for the playoffs?
I’m not trying to take away from their legacy. I’m not trying to talk semantics of whether or not they should or shouldn’t have a statue, or be in the Hall-of-Fame. I'm just saying I don't want to honor a member of the Tigers and a member of the White Sox during our fan fest, regardless of their storied histories here in Cleveland.
We can do that when they retire from baseball. I don't know about you, but I can wait ten years to honor these guys.
If the best way the Indians' ownership and front office can find to improve attendance is to honor former players representing other clubs, then there may be no fixing this thing long-term.
Which brings me back to Castrovince’s piece last week.
Lofton verbalized that the Indians’ one-game “playoff” wasn’t really a playoff.
Swisher, who was brought aboard to be a leader of this team took it to the next level. According to Castrovince:
“He sought Lofton out at the event, got in the grill of the member of the team Hall of Fame, and told him, in so many words, that the Indians are trying to build something special, and that if Lofton didn't want to be a part of it, he ought to board the first flight back to Los Angeles.”
While my opinions are certainly subjective on the matter (and I’m firmly aware of that), it’s clear that this clubhouse has aligned their arrows, if you know a little bit about the Covey principles. This is a team that has embraced an ‘us against the world’ mentality, and "the world" includes anybody who is counterproductive to team success.
That means you, Kenny Lofton.
This is an interesting team, with an interesting approach. I'm not sure if the Masterson news will alter this mentality at all, but my hinting suspicion is that it won't. This is a Cleveland Indians' team that is playing together, and playing to win some baseball games....
...regardless of the recent, or distant past.
I'm a big fan of Elliot Johnson, and am not surprised that he beat out Jeff Francouer. Before I get too far into this discussion, let's realize that Johnson is a utility guy with a versatile skill-set. He's a middle infielder by trade, but can play every position other than the battery.
He's got some decent speed that is supplemented by good instincts on the basepaths.
Just remember though, he's in a pretty tenuous position in the lineup. He can play the infield and the outfield, but he'll be behind both Mike Aviles and David Murphy/Ryan Raburn. That's not to say he isn't going to have an impact, or make big plays. What I am saying is that he's a 24th or 25th guy on the roster.
Don't expect much.
It will be fun having a guy that could play seven positions in one game though.
Jeff Francouer was released and Justin Masterson didn't sign. Still, some people are clamoring about being right or wrong about the roster. Just a little reminder from your friendly neighborhood IBI Editor: it's not about us being right 0r wrong. It's about the Indians winning. Just a side thought as I realize that whatever it is we think we know about spring training, it really is just speculation.
Have a great week everybody...
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People look at the Bailey deal and say Masterson offered some big discount....that's not a good way to go about it though. Or at least, not a fair way to do it. One outlandish deal shouldn't set Masterson's value.
In assessing for "hometown discount" I would look at both the yearly amount AND the total contract amount.
And so to me, this was clearly an offer from Masterson's agent that was a hometown discount, even if it was one that is only a discount on the total contract amount. To me, and I think to the Indians as well, a discount on the total amount is VERY significant, as it dramatically reduces the contract's financial risk to the team.
I would also say that someone could see it as a variation of the "hometown discount" if there was a lower yearly amount and not a lower total contract value amount. (And then obviously it is a hometown discount if it is lower for both the yearly and total amounts.)
Not sure why you would include only one and not the other? 8--)
You make some fair points...but I'd counter with the fact that Masterson and his agent said they were willing to give the Tribe a hometown discount to stay....and then reports come out that they wanted a 3yr/$51M deal. I'm sorry, but $17M a year is NOT a discount, not for a guy that has only been worth that much once in his career (2011). That is an overpay for a guy like Masterson.
So you get upset that the Dolans/Indians say they want to keep Masterson around but lowball him...well, shouldn't we get equally upset that Masterson says he wants to stay in Cleveland and is willing to give us a hometown discount yet asked for a large AAV that is clearly not a discount?!?
It works both ways.
As far as the Swisher-Lofton thing...I'm with Rocky and Jim on this. Love the attitude he brings. I loved Lofton when he was with Cleveland and was one hell of a player....but go back to your entertainment business. Guy still seems bitter that his career ended when it did and that he is already off the HOF ballot.
Yeah, I'm saying Thome and Vizquel shouldn't take jobs they are offered. Sheesh.
What I'm saying is that as long as they are with another club, to NOT honor them at our Fan Fest promoting our current team...to wait until they are outside the game to do that. I think it's fairly clear in the piece.
Now, as to me "spinning" for the Dolans...if that's what you think I'm doing, more power to you. I try to walk a fine line between my true opinions and unbias...so I'm fine with whatever you feel it is I think.
I don't get paid to write, I write for fun, and to spur on discussion...so great.
If you don't know my thoughts on what the Dolan's should or shouldn't do in a situation like this, then you haven't read any of my stuff over the years. When the Indians are on the precipice of winning playoff games, I have a fairly distinct opinion. I don't feel like I have to put it in every piece though. I felt this was a piece in which I'd walk the line.
I normally don't defend my writing, and am fairly quiet on the boards here...but...just thought for once, I'd help clarify a bit.
As to how Swisher hits or doesn't hit...I try not to be exclusive in my thoughts. I think it's possible, as a fan, to think that it's okay for Swisher to act like a team captain in the locker room, and hit the baseball well...not mutually exclusive.
As to Lofton...it pained me when he left more than it did Belle and Ramirez and Thome. I loved watching him play, both in the field, and at the plate. He was special, and should be a hall of famer. I know he's better, which is why I placed all-star next to his name, and not next to Swisher's.
I think my whole point is that, regardless of how I feel about whether it was a playoff or not...it means a whole lot in a clubhouse where there isn't a star to have the group mentality...us against the world sort of thought. It may or may not translate into wins on the field (well, anyone that plays sports knows the answer to that), but if Swisher is confronting Lofton to show locker room continuity, I'm all for it.
It shouldn't take away what anyone feels towards Lofton or the 90's teams, nor should it be a Lofton vs. Swisher pissing contest.
You may think Swisher looks like a little kid in that situation, but my bet is that in that locker room, he looks a lot more like a leader.
but of course...that's just my opinion.
As always..thanks for reading my stuff to everyone. I write from the heart...as always...love everyone's comments critical or not...and love the Indians.
Also, I've been reading a number of articles and comments here about how the Indians FO made the right decision, and its really quite amazing to me how willing people are to carry water for the Dolans. Even here, on a fan blog, many folks are buying the story that "we want Masterson here long-term" while telling each other things like, "yea, we can't afford this," or what we have above: "no matter how some in the media and the message boards spin it. To the Indians, $3-to-3 1/2 million a year is a lot of money." Actually, Jim, I think its you who are doing the spinning, for some reason, on behalf of the Dolans. Instead, to me, it makes much more sense to question why such a relatively small gap of $'s couldn't be bridged.
One more, I only care about Swisher hitting a baseball, and hopefully much better than he did last year. I don't give a darn about any of that brohio stuff or him having it out with Kenny Lofton (who btw, was a much better player than Nick will ever be).
If Kenny thinks a one-game playoff isn't like a five or seven game playoff that's fine with me. He's not denigrating the guys on the team, and he's got a good point: let's start celebrating when we get to the five and seven game playoffs! Swish comes off looking like a little kid defending the fact that "yes, we were really really in the playoffs!!" 8--)
Until this past week I had really gotten back on the Dolans side. And I've read just about every post at IBI trying to lay out good reasons why not spending on Masterson makes sense.
But there is a bit more than Westbrook's arm conking that took this front office to the brink. After all this is a business and there is insurance to cover a substantial amount in such matters.
Even though this team under Wedge had a great near post-season run in '05 - missing the wild card by 1 game - the ownership had already lost the fan base.
Really they had a couple of year holdovers from the Jacobs' and then it was the steady decline to where it's pretty much bottomed and stayed.
And they cannot handle it anymore.
When you look back, even when we had a run that ended one game short of a Series birth - Fans never supported the team.
Besides Westbrook we lost Pronk in his prime with a much worse signing - and afterwards lost Superman Grady Sizemore who appears (for the moment) to have resurrected a platoon player career. After we paid a lot of money to rehab. For years.
This team was snakebit in those years. We lost a lot of key players to injury and never had the option of free agency to make it up.
And Shapiro had one of the worst records of minor league development since the fallow years when the franchise went decades without being relevant.
[I certainly couldn't blame the Dolans then - given how bad the record was. Esspecially since it dated to the onset of their buying in]
In fact you can argue that the ownership punished Shap/Ant as the devils bargin to let them continue on: making them blow it all up after the dismal effort in '08 - and using the expect loss of Sabathia as the focal point.
You can keep your jobs. But. You have to trade everyone of value and field a AAA club for the next few years until you get development - either via trade (which they did) or fix the minors (which they also have pretty much done)
Look what we had to live with. Cy young pitches traded back to back (a historic first) and then the fire sale years. A lot of painful years. A lot of losing.
All that misery was whisked away by scoring Tito and the signings last summer and the wonderful year right up to the final at bat.
But guess what? Season Ticket buyers are not yet back. They are at least 10k short of a healthy base embracing this team. Meaning they are yet just half way there.
And I am sorry. I just don't agree about the numbers dictating this deal with Masterson. This signing is not just another signing.
There is only one reason this hasn't been done. The Owners.
This pitiful decision is a regression for this ownership. It's self-destructive, it's purile, it's stupid...it's down right pathetic. It's beyond frustrating.
I believe that every person in the F/O and without a doubt every player who suits up on Tito's crew wants to win.
But this ownership has no credibility period. No more excuses.
I've defended them for years now and I am through. I don't know why they are in ownership any more. They are a riddle wrapped in an enigma to me.
I enjoyed your post. I'm going to enjoy this team and enjoy this year.
But I won't listen to a word that every gets uttered by a Dolan. They are just as bad as their screw up relative in NYC with the Knick's.
(Good Luck Phil!)
It's become clear you can only really support this team in spite of ownership.
Any trust you do place is misplaced and eventually gets you bitch slapped & punched in the gut.
As a middle-aged ex-Clevelander I lived with some really lousy owners in my little league years; Gabe Paul, Nick Mileti, Ted Bonda, and the worst of the worst, the O'Neill family.
The Dolans are the worst of the lot. Because this team CAN WIN a championship.
It's pretty sad that you have to do it without ownerships help.