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Tribe Happenings: Is a Masterson extension possible?

Tribe Happenings: Is a Masterson extension possible?
Justin Masterson is 44-55 with a 4.08 ERA in 145 career games with the Indians. (Photo: AP)
March 3, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Believe it when you see it with Masterson

Indians ace righty Justin Masterson certainly raised an eyebrow with his comment on Thursday about the prospects of reaching a long term deal to stay with the Indians when he told reporters, “I figure somehow, some way I'll end up still being here for a few more years."

The comment comes as a surprise, especially since Masterson and the Indians are in the middle of talks to complete a long term extension to keep him in the fold for the next several seasons. You typically don’t hear players or teams this candid while negotiations are taking place unless the two sides have made considerable strides and are actually getting close to a deal.

Is this a ploy by Masterson and his representatives to take the pressure off him by commenting publicly his desire to stay so as to put the pressure on the Indians to intensify their efforts to resign him? Or, is it a harbinger to an announcement of a long-term extension that could be coming in the next few weeks?

Those are the two questions I weigh in my mind when I consider Masterson’s comments at face value. He is about as genuine as they come – though many will recall Jim Thome said all the right things and then eventually left as a free agent. So there is that. It is also important to note that Masterson is the Indians union representative, so he is going to be under pressure from the union to get a deal in his favor.

Ultimately, Masterson says he just wants a fair deal, but is a fair deal something the Indians can even afford or that they are willing to hand out?

I wrote a piece for Fox Sports a few weeks back how the history suggests the Indians will not be able to resign Masterson. I provided all of the long term contracts they have given to pitchers during the Progressive Field era:

Free Agents Contract
Charles Nagy 4 years, $24 million
Jake Westbrook 3 years, $33 million
Chuck Finley 3 years, $27 million
C.C. Sabathia 3 years, $24.75 million
Paul Byrd 3 years, $21 million
Jack McDowell 2 years, $9.5 million
Dennis Martinez 2 years, $9 million
Dwight Gooden 2 years, $5.5  million
Orel Hershiser 2 years, $3 million
Pre-Arbitration Contract
Fausto Carmona 4 years, $15 million
C.C. Sabathia 4 years, $9.5 million
Bartolo Colon 4 years, $9.25 million
Jaret Wright 4 years, $8.75 million
Cliff Lee 3 years, $14 million

In just one time in their history they have given a free agent pitcher or free-agent-to-be four years and that was Charles Nagy. He of course blew out his arm shortly after signing the deal and spent the last three years of the deal as an ineffective shell of his former self. The most they have ever guaranteed in money to a pitcher is the $33 million to Jake Westbrook, who of course blew out his arm in the first year of his extension, missed the entire second season of it rehabbing and was traded to the Cardinals in the final year of it.

Needless to say the Indians have not had a lot of luck when they have forked over the money to retain some of their starting pitchers.

It will be interesting to see if Masterson and the Indians can agree to a deal because it is going to take a combination of him giving a significant discount to stay and them going far and beyond anything they have been comfortable to offer to a pitcher before.

Homer Bailey just got a six year $105 million contract extension which includes this season. Perhaps a middle ground with the Indians could be a four year extension for $65-70 million on top of the one year $9.76 million Masterson will earn this season to bring the total to a five year $75-80 million deal. That is close to Anibal Sanchezmoney and would appear to be fair market value.

The question still remains whether the Indians will offer such a deal and will Masterson himself even accept it? Masterson’s comment implies that maybe some momentum is being made toward a comparable deal. I myself have even heard that some notable progress has been made in contract talks between the two sides, so combined with his comment it is encouraging. But it still gives me pause as it is hard to believe based on history that the Indians will sign him to the contract that will be required to keep him.

Then again, Masterson is manager Terry Francona’s guy, and anything Francona wants he gets. He has that kind of pull right now in the organization, so this could end up a one-time exception to the rule with their contract history with starting pitchers.

Harang enters the mix

Going into spring training Carlos Carrasco was deemed the odds on favorite to win the fifth starter spot and Shaun MarcumJosh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer (and in that order) were all in competition for the spot.

A little over two weeks into spring training nothing has changed at the top and bottom of that order as Carrasco is still expected to be named the fifth starter to open the season and Bauer – barring a freak rash of injuries - is destined for Triple-A Columbus to continue to work on his revamped delivery. But what has changed is Marcum has completely fallen out of the running for a rotation spot and Aaron Harang has entered into the mix as a legit starting option for the Indians.

Harang, 35, suffered through an awful season last year going 5-12 with a 5.40 ERA in 26 combined starts with the Mariners and Mets. His struggles last season may have resulted from some crazy movement between three teams in the spring which hindered his throwing regimen, or he just may have hit a wall and is about done as a Major League starter.

But there may actually still be something left in Harang’s tank and that is something the Indians may want to find out this spring. He went 10-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 31 starts for the Dodgers just two years ago, and while the ERA and other numbers were awful last season, his walk rate, strikeout rate and WHIP was better than any of the three previous seasons from 2010-2012. He just ran into a big problem with the long ball last season.

Yes, Tomlin is in the mix, but he also missed almost all of last season and should be on an innings limit this season. The Indians probably prefer to have him open the season no matter what at Triple-A Columbus in order to manage some of his workload on the front end and to have him as an immediate depth starting option. Injuries could crop up this spring which could wreck that plan, but that looks like the way things are setup at the moment.

Harang is healthy and a proven Major League starter, so the way things sit right now he looks like Plan B if something goes wrong with Carrasco this spring. He could be a Derek Lowe type where the Indians see how far he can take them before moving on to another starter if needed later in the year. In the end, what looked like a depth pick up a few weeks ago might actually be their second option at the moment in the fifth starter derby.

Salazar slowed this spring

The Indians are being very cautious with the handling of Danny Salazar this spring. He threw a live batting practice session on Saturday and is expected to have a few more live workouts before he gets into a spring game, thus putting him 7-10 days behind the other starters in camp - if not more.

Salazar is a prized pitching prospect that brings some durability concerns, so the slow unraveling of the bubble wrap this spring is to be expected, but it does raise my concerns significantly.  While I believe he is healthy and the Indians are just taking the safe approach to be overly cautious with such an integral piece to their roster this season, it does bring to light the durability concerns that exist for him. Until he goes out and pitches 180+ innings and makes 30+ starts a season for the next two to three years, those durability questions will remain and the Indians will need to be extra careful with how they handle him.

Remember, the Indians extended his workload beyond their comfort zone last season in their drive to the playoffs. He ended up throwing 20-30 more innings than expected because Justin Masterson got hurt at the start of September and they needed to keep Salazar’s arm in the rotation. As a result, they are doing their due diligence in to help ensure his arm is properly built up after pushing him past his limit last season.

Obviously, this should make any Indians fan nervous. It certainly makes me nervous. It is also why for all the high praise he gets as a future stud at the front of the Indians rotation it shows how delicate he still is and why some of that praise is still a bit unjustified until he shows he can pitch a full Major League season without injury and restrictions. Until he proves otherwise with durability and an ability to log innings to go along with his very good stuff, he is still a mid-to-backend guy for me. A good one at that.

Pestano is a wildcard

Another intriguing storyline this spring is following how Vinnie Pestano looks after an offseason of rest. Now, typically we do not put much if any stock into spring training numbers, but his performance along with the quality of his stuff in his outings and workouts will go a long way at determining his fate this spring.

Pestano is all but certain to make the opening day bullpen as the sixth guy in the pen behind John AxfordCody AllenBryan ShawMarc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman; however, he has to prove he is 100% healthy and effective in order to get that near guaranteed spot.

Everyone knows that last season Pestano struggled through injuries and even tried to pitch through them, and as a result his numbers fell off considerably. If he is able to return to his 2011-2012 form then the Indians bullpen suddenly becomes even deeper and stronger because he along with Allen and Shaw could be weapons in any combination from the sixth through eighth innings. Also, with three very good right-handers that can all setup it could allow Terry Francona more flexibility so he doesn’t have to overwork guys in the late innings.

Pestano is expected to make his spring debut today. He says he feels comfortable on the mound once again, so what he does these next few weeks will go a long way at proving if 2013 was a small hiccup in his Major League career or if he is truly in decline and regressing into a middle of the road Major League pen option.

Indians add utility depth

The Indians completed a small trade with the Dodgers on Sunday acquiring infielder Justin Sellers in exchange for cash considerations.  To allow room on the 40-man roster the Indians designated first baseman David Cooper for assignment.

Sellers, 28, has appeared in 82 games for the Dodgers over the last three seasons hitting .199 with a .578 OPS during that time, and is a career .268 hitting with a .748 OPS in nine minor league seasons. His value is as a depth utility infield option as he has appeared in 608 games at shortstop, 170 games at second base and 35 games at third base over his minor league career, and 50 games at shortstop, 15 games at second base and 13 games at third base with the Dodgers.

The pickup of Sellers is a mildly interesting one as he is yet more middle infield depth the Indians have added to the 40-man roster that they can control this season (he is essentially their Juan Diaz on the roster this season). Assuming Mike Aviles remains healthy and Elliot Johnson nabs the final spot on the roster, Sellers is simply a pickup for Triple-A Columbus to have on hand if any of Asdrubal Cabrera, Aviles or Johnson are hurt this spring or early in the season. He has one option remaining so the Indians are free to move him up and down between Columbus and Cleveland as they please this season.

Infielder Jose Ramirez is just returning to game action this week and the Indians may be overly cautious with his return, so they needed another middle infield option for the start of the season in Columbus. Sellers should slide into the regular shortstop position at Columbus and allow Ramirez to mix in at third base, shortstop and second base as the Indians see fit in order to monitor his health from thumb surgery and also prepare him for a utility role in Cleveland.

As for Cooper, if he clears waivers – and he probably will – then he would stay in Major League camp with the Indians as a non-roster invite. This is the first time he has been designated for assignment (he was flat out released by the Blue Jays last March) so the Indians would also still control him for the 2014 season and can outright him to Triple-A Columbus at the end of spring training.

Some may be surprised how the Indians signed Cooper to a one-year Major League deal this offseason yet designated him for assignment, but it is important to note that he was never really in consideration for a Major League job out of spring training.  He was ticketed for Columbus from the get-go pretty much no matter what as he first needs to prove his health in a return from a career threatening injury and innovative spinal cord surgery last spring. The Major League deal ensured control as he had an option remaining whereas a minor league deal may have included an opt out.

Parting shots

Right-hander Shaun Marcum is still progressing in his return from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome and is just throwing bullpens at the moment. He is still at least a week away from throwing live batting practice and might be almost two weeks away from appearing in a game. … Right-hander Frank Herrmann is progressing well in his return from Tommy John surgery. He threw a simulated game on Sunday and could be ramped up to live minor league games by the end of the month. … First baseman Bryan LaHair is being gradually ramped back into game action from his wrist surgery in September and is just hitting in the cages. … Sportstime Ohio will broadcast 154 Indians games this season while Fox Sports 1 will carry six more and Fox Sports will air one game. The only game not to be televised is the July 5th game at home against the Royals.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Wahoo me too
March 4, 2014 - 10:17 AM EST
Hey Seth, Bryan Price had tweaked his hamstring in the first week so they have held him out as a caution; he was cleared yesterday. He has been throwing but was kept out of the running drills for the last 10 days. He is back now and I'm looking forward to watching him also.
March 4, 2014 - 9:33 AM EST
I'm not sure that 4yr/$72M was ever confirmed though I heard similar years/amounts.

I just don't see Masterson getting 4yr/$75-80M...that'd give him a higher AAV than Anibal Sanchez (5yr/$88M) who was/is better than Masterson. 4yr/$70M would put him more in line with Sanchez...though again, he has been worse (even if you don't count Sanchez's 2013 since it was after he signed his deal)....still think 4yr/$60-65M is more reasonable/fair.
Nick S
March 4, 2014 - 12:20 AM EST
Hermie, the Indians offered CC 72 million for 4 years. I think Masterson gets a 4year deal and a 5 year option, for 75- 80 million. Look for Hoynes , Pluto and rest of the cleveland media to crap themselves when the deal is done.
Garden Gnome
March 3, 2014 - 10:02 PM EST

Dude needs to get a life.
March 3, 2014 - 7:39 PM EST
Meant to say "...have a no long-term contract policy for pitchers..."
March 3, 2014 - 7:38 PM EST
It's very interesting to me that CA is playing the situation with Masterson so close to the vest. Makes me think some days that something (relative to a JM extension) is definitely going on, and on other days, that it must be that absolutely nothing is going on. Ugghhh...

Thanks Tony for the breakdown of recent pitching deals. Long-term contracts for position players and pitchers are two very different things. As the above shows, its much more risky to invest large $'s and years in pitchers than it is in full-time players. It makes sense for a small market team like Cleveland to basically have a no long-term contract policy, definitely not more than four years, and I wouldn't be surprised if that isn't the case for the Tribe (behind closed doors). Obviously, if a $80m contract goes bad, it could have a devastating impact for years.

It seems pretty clear that for Justin to stay in Cleveland he will have to give us a pretty sizable home-town discount. Hard to believe that he would do that (in this day and age of greed and avariciousness), but I suppose its possible. As much as I do not like to be cynical about these things, its more likely that his latest comments are a negotiating ploy...8--(
March 3, 2014 - 6:21 PM EST
What happened to Bryan Price anyway? Haven't seen him mentioned, is he not in camp?
March 3, 2014 - 4:27 PM EST
With Herrmann coming off surgery, will the Indians place him on the DL to start the season? 60 day? Looks like chances of LaHair having a chance to win a spot on roster is remote because his rehab from his surgery. Will he start in Columbus or will he decline his option. Brewers and Pirates are still looking for 1B.
March 3, 2014 - 4:07 PM EST
Chris, good point on Salazar and I was actually thinking about that when i started writing that section on him and forgot to mention it. I could very well see them having him open the season in the fifth slot in the rotation to allow more time to get him ready. Although I must say I don't subscribe to that line of thinking, it does look like something they are doing....
March 3, 2014 - 3:29 PM EST
I wonder if part of the reason they are delaying Salazar is because they have an off day in the first week of the season. I'm thinking that they plan on starting Salazar some time in the second week of April, probably against the Padres, in order to cut down on some of his workload.
March 3, 2014 - 3:05 PM EST
One silver lining with that Westbrook extension....we did get Corey Kluber when we dealt him. Not saying Kluber + what we got from Westbrook was worth the $30M we paid him over those 3 years (didn't $3M get paid the previous year?) but still.

Would love to know exactly what the Tribe offered or was willing to offer CC in 2008 before they dealt him....were they only willing to go 3 years or did they make/consider making a 4year deal as rumored? Not that Masterson is on CC levels but still.

I've suggested 5yr/$75M for Masterson pre-2014 signing and think 4yr/$65M now post-2014 signing is reasonable. Though I still can't help but think if we wait til next winter, make a QO...if you don't get him a big cheaper. If he were to agree to a 4yr/$65M extension now I wouldn't be opposed but just think the QO is proving to be a handicap for non-stars like Masterson. I'd probably push for something closer to 4yr/$60M. Still gets him more than guys like Ubaldo, Garza, Edwin Jackson, etc. Edwin Jackson had a 12.9 fWAR the 4 years prior to signing his 4 year deal with the Cubs (without a QO attached)....Masterson is at 9.6 the last 3 with ZiPS projecting 2.9 this year, making a total of 12.5. Is he really worth that much more than a guy like Edwin Jackson right now? Definitely would say worth more (better K-rate, ERA, FIP, etc) but not sure he's worth more than $10M more over 4 years.
March 3, 2014 - 2:53 PM EST
"The only game not to be televised is the July 5th game at home against the Royals."

You have to be fraking kidding me?!

The only game all year that is not televised is July 5th...the day Larry Doby broke the AL color barrier?!?!?!
March 3, 2014 - 2:51 PM EST
Considering the Indians' track record of developing pitching, I think the Indians should consider breaking their trend on extending pitching. They have been able to do a better job on developing bats, so going over what they consider budget for pitchers may be a better solution.

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