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Tribe Happenings: The time is now to extend Masterson

Tribe Happenings: The time is now to extend Masterson
April 28, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Taking the plunge on Masterson

It is something that has not been talked about much yet, but right-hander Justin Masterson is getting closer and closer to free agency with every start he makes. At the same time, with every good start he makes, his price tag goes up and up as well.

Masterson, who just turned 28-years old last month, is set to hit free agency after next season. If he continues to pitch like he has to date, he is on his way to a big pay day considering he will be just 29-years old when he enters free agency and will still be in his prime. Even if he morphs back into the starter he has been on average from 2010-2012, he is in for a big enough pay day.

The Indians spent a lot of money in the offseason and doled out some significant contracts to the likes of Michael Bourn (four years, $48 million) and Nick Swisher (4 years, $56 million), but Masterson is heading for a huge pay day that will dwarf those contracts. New approach or not, he is going to be a hard guy to resign if he gets to free agency.

Consider for a moment that Edwin Jackson signed with the Chicago Cubs this offseason for four years $52 million, or that Anibal Sanchez resigned with the Tigers for five years $80 million. The cost of pitching in free agency just continues to skyrocket each offseason.

If Masterson has a good year this season and another one next season for the Indians, there is no telling what the market will be like for him in the 2014-2015 offseason. Big, tall front of the rotation types that have the stuff and talent like Masterson has are hard to come by in free agency, which means he could end up with a five or six year deal for anywhere between $90-120 million. Maybe even more.

Obviously, that is the kind of contract the Indians have always shied away from, not necessarily because of the average amount per year but because of the length of the deal and the risk involved.  But considering the Indians’ current state of their starting rotation, resigning Masterson and giving him a five or six year deal for big money is a risk that they have to take.

Can you imagine an Indians rotation going into the 2015 season sans Masterson if he left via free agency? With the rotation currently put together by band aids and masking tape, few options available from the farm system to impact the rotation in the next few years, and little buying power in free agency to land any premier free agent starting pitching options, it could be ugly. If you think the rotation is bad now, just imagine it with him out of it.

This is why the Indians should be actively discussing a contract extension with Masterson right now. Some players request not to discuss contract extensions in season because of the distraction it can create, and if that is the case right now with him and the Indians then so be it. But as soon as that window is open to talk with Masterson and his agent and present him with a substantial offer the Indians have to do it.

Including the 2014 season in any extension, it will probably take a five or six year deal for at least $16 million per year to get him to forgo free agency, and even that might not be enough at it may cost close to $18-20 million per year. It just depends on how strong an offer the Indians make, how much he likes pitching in Cleveland, and his overall desire to explore free agency.

To put things in perspective, Masterson’s distance from free agency is exactly the same distance that Cliff Lee had in 2009 when he was eventually traded in July of that season. Which means that if the Indians tank this season, would they consider trading him and getting a ton of prospects in return rather than risk letting him walk after the 2014 season?

Trading Masterson might present an even riskier proposition than resigning him. Any trade of the star of their rotation would destroy any positive rapport with the fan base the Indians have worked so hard to rebuild since the end of last season. If they swing another veteran for prospects deal – especially in light of one of the most productive and encouraging offseasons in their history – they are back to square one (square zero?) and will have all the recently reclaimed fans jumping ship and taking large chunks of the remaining fan base with them.

Considering the Indians absolutely cannot let Masterson get to free agency and compete head to head with the bigger markets for his services and that they cannot trade him in fear of severe repercussions from their fan base, the only option available at this point is to hold their breath and roll the dice on a long term extension.

To be a consistent winner you need to have good starting pitching. This is something that has been proven over the years time and time again.

Extending Masterson is the first step at securing one of those rotation spots for at least the next half decade. After that it would be up to him to perform so he lives up to that contract, some luck to occur so he remains healthy, and a giant leap of faith from ownership and the front office that the deal does not blow up in their face and become an albatross around the organization for years.

But that is the risk the Indians have to take.

Gomes sent to Columbus

It came as no surprise when the Indians activated catcher Lou Marson from the 15-day disabled list this past week and optioned out catcher Yan Gomes to Triple-A Columbus.

Marson has been the Indians’ full time backup catcher for four years now, and he was not going to lose his spot because of an injury – especially one where he sacrificed himself for the team to save a run. Sure, he is a poor hitter (lifetime .219 average) and has no pop whatsoever (lifetime .299 slugging percentage), but his value continues to stem from the good defense he provides and the good at bats he puts up as he takes walks and limits strikeouts.

That said, Marson’s time as the full time backup is quickly coming to an end. He knows it. The Indians know it. Everyone knows it. He is in his first arbitration year and is making $1 million, and that cost will only continue to go up as he goes through arbitration. His value as a backup catcher diminishes more and more with every extra dollar he makes.

At some point this season Gomes may supplant Marson as the regular backup catcher in Cleveland, and if not this season, everything is lined up for that to happen before the start of next offseason. In the meantime, to get him ready for that role, the Indians want him to get as much playing time as he can so that he can finish himself off and be as Major League ready as possible for when he makes that permanent transition to the big leagues.

With Carlos Santana playing more catcher this season than he ever has, it means that the backup catcher will only play once or twice a week. That is a limited amount of opportunities for a player to play. You never want a young player with upside in such a role as when they are not playing they are losing development time. Older players that are more established and have no upside are fine in limited bench roles, but young players on a roster need to play which is why you rarely see a young player with upside on a Major League bench unless they are getting regular playing time.

Gomes showed some encouraging things in his short stint with the Indians. Three of his four hits went for extra bases and he handled his duties well behind the plate. He is still only a career .205 hitter in 117 at bats in the big leagues and with 6 walks and 35 strikeouts he lacks the patient, disciplined approach that Marson has, but where he excels over Marson is in the power department with a .410 slugging percentage in the bigs and .484 slugging percentage in his career in the minors (Marson has a .383 lifetime slugging percentage in the minors).

Right now, the tradeoff between Marson and Gomes is clear. Marson provides better defense and puts up better at bats, but Gomes has a much better ability to impact in an at bat because of much more power than Marson. But for now the Indians need to let Gomes play every day in Columbus and be ready for a call if needed.

At some point the Indians may trade Marson this season to create a spot for Gomes, or they may simply just non-tender him in the offseason and make him a free agent. Either way, the days of Marson with this team are quickly coming to an end and the Gomes era is just beginning.

Myers sidelined indefinitely

On Monday the Indians announced that right-handed starter Brett Myers has been diagnosed with tendonitis and a mild sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. He had been placed on the disabled list last weekend, and will remain there for a while as he rests.

Myers will not throw for another week to ten days and then be reassessed at that time. If he is asymptomatic at that time, he will likely begin a throwing program and return to action in a week or so. If everything goes well and the injury is as hoped, he should only be out about a month.

That having been said, it is important to note that the exact nature of the injury is often times not disclosed or may not even yet be known. They may not find out for sure what the problem is until after his two week shutdown and they have a clearer view of what is going on with his elbow when they re-check it. It is also no guarantee that rest fixes anything as the discomfort may crop back up when he begins his throwing program.

For all we know, Myers could have even been recommended for surgery, but opted for the natural healing option instead. Lots of guys do this. Sometimes it works. I see it all the time in the minors with pitchers who prefer surgery as a last possible resort.

If I were the Indians, I would move forward this season with the belief that Myers will not return and pitch for them. The elbow issue may be nothing and he may return in a few weeks, but it may be something that lingers and ultimately prevents him from pitching again this season or if he does come back it severely limits effectiveness – as we have seen already with the 29 hits and 10 homers he has allowed in 21.1 innings.

The Indians signed Myers to a one year $7 million deal because they felt he could help eat some much needed innings this season. They were correct to guess that based on his career to date, though right now that is something that is just not going to happen.

Indians escape disaster with Carrasco

The Indians starting pitching options are dropping like flies. When right-hander Corey Kluber starts game two of the doubleheader today, the Indians will have already used nine different starters in their first 22 games.

After already losing Myers to an elbow injury earlier in the week, arguably the Indians best rotation solution right-hander Carlos Carrasco was injured in his start on Thursday night when he was hit on the right elbow by a line drive. According to team personnel in attendance, it was a scary moment and one of the ugliest non-head injuries seen on the mound. Everyone expected the worst, but after visiting with a doctor on Friday morning he was diagnosed with a deep contusion to his right elbow.

For once it appears the Indians caught a break, though it should be noted that they are not out of the woods yet. He is listed as day to day but will probably miss some time while they wait for the swelling in his elbow to go down so they can reassess it again just to be sure there is else nothing wrong, especially when you consider it is his surgically repaired elbow.  If he is out a few weeks and not throwing, it will probably also mean that he will need to do some sort of throwing program to get back into game shape.

While the Indians were fortunate to avoid injury, it is unfortunate that Carrasco will be temporarily sidelined as he was really pitching well and looked to be settling into a groove.  He was in the midst of another very good outing for Columbus on Thursday night as he had thrown 4.2 shutout innings before the incident occurred, and in total he has thrown 14.2 shutout innings and allowed 7 hits, 2 walks, and has 16 strikeouts in three appearances for Columbus.

With the Indians in dire need for starting rotation help, Carrasco looked to be in line for a quick call to Cleveland even in spite of his recent headhunting issues. For now at least, he is out of the mix, but once he starts pitching again it looks like he could be called up at any time.

Parting shots

Outfielder Michael Bourn had five stitches removed from his right index finger this week and rejoined the team on Friday. He has started some light baseball activities and if all goes well the next few days he could be activated on Tuesday when he is eligible to come off the disabled list. He is not expected to go on a rehab assignment in the minors. … On Monday the Indians activated right-handed reliever Matt Albers from the restricted list and designated right-handed pitcher Fernando Nieve for assignment. Nieve was called up for one day last Sunday but was not needed. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. … If you are looking for potential starting pitching options for the Indians, keep an eye on lefty T.J. House. He was promoted to Columbus on Friday and in his debut that night went six strong innings allowing just two runs. In five combined games between Double-A Akron and Columbus this season he is 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA, and in 28.1 innings has allowed 25 hits, 5 walks, and has 34 strikeouts.

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

April 29, 2013 - 9:51 AM EDT
I agree, I'd be wary of giving MAsterson an extension. But looking at his talent, upside and his career to date, the Indians may have to bite the bullet on him and take that risk that he is for real and is about to round into a very good starter for the next 4-5 years. Because at this point, trading him in July or letting him go after next season is not the right solution. They simply have no pitching and can't afford any pitching go - overrated as it may be. He's not a front end starter, but he is a solid #3 on a playoff staff and maybe a good #2 if he rounds into shape. Obviously, he is the Indians' ace by default since they have nothing better, but lots of teams have "aces" that are merely #2 or #3 starters. The price of good pitching is VERY costly. Even AVERAGE pitching costs a lot (look at the Edwin Jackson deal). Bottom line, while I agree Masterson has his warts, the Indians have to extend him and keep him. They can't replace him in free agency or from their minor league system.....and if they truly want to win like that say they do, then he has to be a part of that winning rotation for the next several years.
April 29, 2013 - 2:45 AM EDT

I love the site and everything that you do, but calling Masterson a front of the rotation pitcher is crazy talk. You can call him that all you want for the five starts a year in which he actually looks like that but he's average or below the rest of the time. Just too inconsistent and horrible against lefties.
April 28, 2013 - 6:55 PM EDT
Guys, cool it on the Carrasco being at front of the rotation pitcher talk. Again, maybe for this pathetic staff but not for anyone else.

I just wish we could get a FO who values pitching because that's the only way to compete anymore. Our best pitcher is a 3 or a 4 on most decent teams and he's our undesputed #1. It's a joke and the Indians will continue to be on a path to nowhere as long as they continue to ignore the development needs of pitchers, especially in the minors.
April 28, 2013 - 6:46 PM EDT
Masterson isn't worth the contract extension proposed in this article. He's ideally a middle or back of the rotation arm. He can't consistently get lefties out and tends to over throw when he scuffles. The Indians dangled him this summer and would believe they'd move him for the right price.

It just goes to show just how pathetic the Indians rotation is if they need to pay Masterson like a top of the rotation arm. Let someone else do it. He's just not consistant enough to fulfil the worth of a big contract like that.
April 28, 2013 - 3:55 PM EDT
Seth, my thoughts exactly. No reason on earth kipnis has a death lock on the 2 hole. And its beyond stupid why Santana is in 6 hole. Cabrera in 2 and Santana in 3 is the ideal lineup. Cabrera stays in 2 as he has a track record and kipnis doesn't.

Enough of this bull about trying to bat righty, lefty etc. Just get your best bats at the top. We are being to cute. And dumb.
April 28, 2013 - 3:32 PM EDT
I think the Tribe has to approach Masterson about resigning now. If he's willing to re-sign they should work on getting something done. If he expresses interest in testing FA, I say trade him this yr at the deadline... If they are out of contention.
April 28, 2013 - 2:46 PM EDT
Got to say, what is up with Francona's lineup construction? Asdrubal seems to be coming around, but Kipnis has been horrible for 4 months now, going back to last year, and continues to hit 2nd. Today he has Santana, who's been the best hitter, and whose primary skill is OBP, batting 6th, ahead of ... Raburn. Craziness. I can understand keeping it one way for a while, and not going all Wedgian with lineup juggling, but it's been a month. Kipnis should be hitting bottom third, and Santana should be top 3rd. Brantley, Asdrubal, Santana, Swisher, Reynolds would be the logical top 5 until Bourn returns.
Common Cents
April 28, 2013 - 1:36 PM EDT
Masterson has had ONE single season as a SP with an ERA below 4.50. His career WHIP is 1.38 and that even includes his time in the bullpen.

The time to resign Masterson to a long-term deal was LAST OFFSEASON after he sucked. Buy low, sell high.
April 28, 2013 - 12:56 PM EDT
I like Masterson, but if I were in the Indians I'd be very wary of extending him. I think he profiles as a guy who won't age well. Like Ubaldo, he doesn't command his pitches well, and he has a funky delivery. Since he only has the two pitches, his success depends completely on the dominant hard sinker. As he ages and loses velocity, I doubt that he can still be an effective starter. We saw this last year even, when his velocity was down a couple mph he was much more hittable. When he's 89-91 with his sinker he's basically Joe Smith, which I think is what he'll be in the not-so-distant future: a decent right-handed reliever. I would be okay with letting Masterson walk after 2015, I think his best years will be behind him at that point.
April 28, 2013 - 12:45 PM EDT
Good article.

For some reason I thought we had an option of Masterson for 2015 so this was sad news for me. I agree a hundered percent that we should try and extend him. I would offer to add cash to his current deal this year as well as add money next year. It's just one of the few advanatages a team has trying to extend a player while still under contract. Then add 4 years to his current deal with a vesting option for the 5th year and an option for the 6th year for greater money and a buyout. I think that might get it done.

Last nights lost sucked. It just hit me hard for some reason. I felt like we could have and should have one but were not able to exectute in situations where it just needed to be done.

BUT....... Scott Kazmir looked pretty good vs a good team. It would be beyond huge if he could settle between Masterson and McCalister. This would give the Indians 3 solid starters. Thats basically the minimum needed to be an above 500 ballclub. Hopefully, Bretty Meyers can come back at some point and hold down the very bottom of the rotation and eat innings like he was signed too.

Now, if those two things can happen we will actually be in pretty decent shape as it would only leave major hole in the rotation. Now for the moment Ubaldo should hold the spot as we hope and pray he can be a 4.24 ERA type of guy the rest of the way. Its amazing to think thats a streach when a couple years ago this guy looked like a CY Young caliber pitcher.

At some point though, Carlos Carrasco needs to come back if he keeps pitching like he is pitching. With this rotation you just can't overlook a legit youn FOR pitcher. Even if he seems to have issues. Imagine how good he could be if he learns to control his emotions and stay focused and in control in dire situations. If Meyers does not come back then new CC might have to pitch along side Ubaldo........ for awhile.

The best option to save the rotation might be to look outside the ORG for a trade. Ricky Nolasco might not cost too much and he hates it in Florida and they need prospects. Being able to stash Ricky at the bottom of the rotation would really go a long way to help make it stable.

Then there is always Kluber as another 5th starter option. Of course there is Trevor Bauer but I would not expect to see him until rosters expand. Although, when they do the Indians may be one of the few teams that are given a major lift. TJ House made some adjustments to his mechanics and it seems to be working so honestly if he keeps pitching well why not give him a shot? It would be a major win for the ORG if he could become a real legit young lefty that can pitch in the bottom of the rotation for years to come. Dice K is still around as well.

So, maybe by the trade deadline we could hope for a rotation like this.


Thats not that bad when you consider we would still have some depth with Ubaldo, maybe Meyers and of course Bauer and House. This rotation with Brett Meyers as the long man in case a starter does not have it would be good with me.
April 28, 2013 - 12:17 PM EDT
Whoa, just saw the tweet on Barnes, Gomes. They will both see action in the doubleheader I have a feeling. Sweet!
April 28, 2013 - 12:04 PM EDT
Agree with everything you say Tony. I watched Anibal Sanchez in the playoffs last year and a couple nites ago when he fanned 17- he's flat nasty and he's in a winning organization w a good manager and pitching coach and Scherzer and Verlander around him. He was undermotivated where he was and ready to dig in and make a place for himself among baseball's elite starters- the Tigers picked him up at the right time. Other GM's will look at Masterson and see a similar opportunity. I think he likes Cleveland, he likes Francona, and he's a Christian- money is not the only thing matters to him- but it is going to be important for him to be on a good team that is playing meaningful games for the majority of each season, otherwise I can see his focus drifting. From what he is showing so far, this looks like a breakout year. I also think he can inspire the likes of Bauer, Carrasco, Allen, Hagadone, and even Kazmir with his steady demeanor and swing and miss stuff. And there is no point in trying to tease quality starts out of a declining Myers if you have up and comers like Carrasco, Bauer, and behind them House and Salazar starting to make their move. And Gomes I see post All-Star break- if he continues hitting and catching well in Columbus. P.S. If the shortstop and second baseman are both hitting a buck something, this team- no team- is going to do well. What is up with Cabrera and Kipnis? These guys have gone from All-Star talents to cover your eyes when they step into the box. Check up from the neck up time, methinks
April 28, 2013 - 11:57 AM EDT
Lets hope and pray that the initial prognosis and diagnosis on Carlos is correct. He is a stud but like a stallion he is spirited
lets hope i was wrong in the earlier speculation and there isnt some sort of vindetta on him throwing inside. Somehow he needs to get a hearing and needs to flash those dimples and make sure that he is believed that the pitch to Youk was an accident and give him a clean slate. Tony this is one of the better happening you have done. I agree we need to bite the bullet on Masty and put a lot of zeroes in the tender to his agent thru at least 2018. And a rotation of Masty, Carlos, Bauer, House, and Salazar, and Zac Mac-----5 of the 6 hopefully are keepers looks like a stable of power arms and except for bauer and salazar all big and hard throwers. and even though not as tall as the other 4 trevor and danny have great stuff. The tigers are obviously for real but not as young as the tribe, and the royals offense is definately down right nasty, so we better get a good rotation to go with the good bullpen we have put together and have more coming to be annual contenders in what is gonna be a very good division as the twins also have a good young nucleus of stud hitters coming also a tad like the 2011 version of the royals, This could go from the AL LEAST to the a very competive division such as the AL east has been over the years.

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