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Trading Justin Masterson at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

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Masterson (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Masterson (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

It’s been pretty quiet here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

It’s driving some crazy, as a matter of fact.

The Indians have some holes to fill, and while the rest of the world seemingly are filling every hole with millions and millions of dollars worth of players, the Indians are calmly and collectively doing nothing.

Well, you all know they are doing more than nothing, right?

Chris Antonetti is busy during the Winter Meetings gauging what is available for the Indians on many fronts.

I believe that.

Many don’t.

That’s fine with me, as I’m an optimistic person.

How I’m an optimistic person following Cleveland sports is beyond me, but I am.

I believe in Terry Francona, and in doing so, I’ve become a believer in the rest of the Three Amigos of Antonetti and Mark Shapiro.

I think this is a tandem that will build this team into a winner, when the right moves come along.

No, the Dolan’s aren’t the perfect ownership group for Cleveland fans because they don’t have billions of dollars, and aren’t willing to throw money away.

I want that to.

They aren’t that.

But what I believe they WILL do is spend money if they believe it will earn them money…which means winning games.

For the first time since they’ve owned the team, I believe they thing they have the guy running the team that can work baseball voodoo and do just that.

Terry Francona.

If Antonetti sees a player that Francona likes, and is a combination of cost-effective and can improve the team, they’ll make the move.

No, it’s not perfect.

No, it’s not the way we want things done.

No, it’s not a whole lot different than it was done before, except for Francona.

He has weight.

He has pull.

He knows baseball.

I trust him.

So do the Dolans, and so does Chris Antonetti.

You should too.

It doesn’t mean he won’t make mistakes, but it does mean things will get done, and the Indians will win games.

Just wait and see.
On trading or signing Justin Masterson. This really seems like an easy question, and the easy answer is, “of course you sign Justin Masterson. The problem is that there is a lot to consider before you give an answer.

With regards to trading Masterson, I truly believe they missed the boat on dealing him for a maximum amount. I’m not saying that they can’t still deal him and get a lot, in particular in this market, but what I am saying is that this isn’t going to be a James Shields‘-like deal.

Why?

The Rays are brilliant at dealing away their top stars with multiple years left. Sure, it sounds like on-the-field suicide for the Rays, but that just hasn’t been the case in the grand scheme of things. They’ve been able to table their stars into future stars in this manner. Where it gets tricky is with regards to the trades themselves. If you are going to continually contend and rebuild, you have to hit home runs when you make those trades.

Of course, while Andrew Friedman may be the most brilliant young GM in all of baseball, his build and rebuild mentality has certainly not helped the attendance. Of course, there are a lot of other issues at play there as well, and I really don’t want to walk down that attendance road today. We certainly feel Tampa’s pain, but haven’t really been as consistently good.

Again…for another day.

Now we can get into whether or not the Indians are capable of spinning their stars into future stars, but I think that’s truly for another discussion. Let’s not forget that Justin Masterson himself came over in a trade from a star when the Indians dealt Victor Martinez to the Boston Red Sox, and while there is a lot made on the Indians’ misses over the years, that was assuredly a hit.

With all of that said, I think that Chris Antonetti has the ability and wherewithal to continue to build and rebuild the club, while still contending. A lot of that has to do with his new manager, Terry Francona, but I do think that Antonetti could really do some damage with a payroll.

Of course, you could say that about a lot of guys, but that’s for another day.

Masterson really was a perfect storm prior to 2013 with regards to trade-value. He was coming off a season in which he really wasn’t very good. His best attribute was that he was healthy, and pitched over 200 innings. He walked too many, struck out too few, and just wouldn’t have brought in a lot.

The Indians also didn’t have a lot of pitching options, so dealing away their “best” pitcher prior to the season with Ubaldo Jimenez the only back-up to lead the staff (at the time, no, seriously), you just couldn’t leverage your rotation with a trade.

Add that to the hiring of Francona and his likely insistence that Masterson not be moved under any circumstances, and you get my point.

Dealing Masterson probable didn’t come up for several reasons.

The Tribe could have dealt their ace at the trade deadline last year, and they likely still could have maximized their value. Weighing the market then though likely proves that the Indians really couldn’t have gotten the return they needed. If you look at the players that were moved, while I’m not saying that there weren’t players that could have helped them, I’m not sure the return value was available at the time.

Look, it’s a tricky proposition when you are the Indians looking to deal a starting pitcher.

Sure, you have to maximize value and you have to find the right trade partner and timing, but unlike the Rays, the Indians don’t have an abundance of young pitching to supplement the loss.

You could make a case for Trevor Bauer.

You could make a case for Carlos Carrasco.

Truth be told, I’m as optimistic as anyone with regards to both.

The problem is that neither of them are certain to ever be effective major leaguers, and for similar reasons: their heads.

I think Bauer has too much going on.

I think Carrasco often has to little going on.

They aren’t worthless by any stretch, and if they are cultivated, especially Bauer, they can turn into good starting pitchers, but they aren’t locks by any stretch of the imagination. The Rays were able to deal starters and get back returns that didn’t necessarily have to include starters.

The Indians have to walk that fine line.

I know many have the confidence in saying that Corey Kluber is going to continue his upward progression, and will point to metrics in saying the trends are for improvement.

That may be true.

I’ve also seen enough baseball to know that being a talented baseball player, and showing that talent on the field when there are nine or ten other talented major league players on the other team trying to make you look foolish isn’t always easy to project.

Zach McAllister fits in the same boat, and we saw some of that from both players at the same time last year after returning from injury. Both had games in which they looked good, Kluber more than McAllister. Both had games in which they look like they warped back into 2012.

Even if BOTH are exact duplicates of themselves during their hot months during 2013, in dealing Masterson, the Indians would then be starting the year off with exactly one starter from opening day of their successful 2013 season, assuming the Indians don’t sign Ubaldo Jimenez.

Scott Kazmir is gone to Oakland, and while he was on the DL to start the year, he was the #5 starter.

Brett Myers is gone (but healthy!!! Let’s sign him!) to find a new team.

Ubaldo Jimenez is gone to a team with like a whole bunch of money.

Justin Masterson would be gone in a trade.

That leaves McAllister from last year. You then add Kluber and stud Danny Salazar, and perhaps even Josh Tomlin, and you can see the fine line in which I’m talking about.

So the Indians have to trade away their ace, with only one year of control left, and get back another potential ace, with many years of control left. You also would likely be looking for other players in return.

Of course, in dealing Masterson, and potentially others, the Indians could re-sign Ubaldo or another starter, in which case getting back a starter wouldn’t be as important, but I just can’t imagine the Indians would utilize Masterson in a trade without getting another starter back.

It’s a fine line, and you’d have to find the right team, with the right players.

Perhaps Arizona is that team.

Perhaps there are others, but the point here is that you have to get back a big-time return.

You also have to weigh the draft-pick compensation that the Indians would get should they let Masterson walk after 2014.

Should they sign Masterson?

I went back and forth with Hermie, one of our most frequent readers here at IBI, and I think we both agreed on what it would take to sign Masterson, even though we were arguing over the wording of what was being said.

Masterson is going to likely take a minimum of $15 million a year. My guess is that he’ll also be looking for a five year deal.

What would the Indians be willing to offer Masterson?

A lot would have to do with what they consider their pay ceiling, and what else they do this offseason.

I mentioned Jake Westbrook in our conversation yesterday as the only pitcher that actually signed a long-ish term deal with the Indians. Prior to the 2007 season, Westbrook’s 29th year on this earth, he signed a three-year extension with the Indians to the tune of $31 million. The “three-year” deal also encompassed the upcoming 2007 season, Westbrook’s final year of arbitration.

Ultimately, that deal took on the look of a four-year contract, going for a total of four-years and $37 million.

The Indians stance with regards to pitchers at this point in their careers is not to offer any sort of long term-deal. Part of this learning process was expounded in that Westbrook deal when he missed most of 2008 (the first year of his three-year contract) season and all of the 2009 season.

The Indians had been hesitant to offer pitchers multi-year trades in the past (think Kevin Millwood) because they just didn’t want to get locked into long-term money with short-term propositions.

That brings us to this year.

Would the Indians be willing to sign Justin Masterson this year, and what would it take?

There are similarities between Masterson and Westbrook, for sure. Both weren’t/aren’t elite starters, but can certainly pitch at that level when they are pitching well.

The major difference between the two was Masterson’s K-Rate in 2013. Over much of his career as a starter, it has set right around seven per game. Last year, it jumped up to 9.1 K’s-per-nine, which is elite. Westbrook never touched that, or even came close.

While there isn’t a sustained amount of seasons to actually think that Masterson will maintain that, anyone that’s seen both pitch understand the difference between the two. I think the fact that Masterson still likely has room to grow will also play a part in the reality of how teams will look at him, and what he’ll command.

In other words, he’s not going to be signing a three-year, $31 million deal.

Would he sign a three-year, $45 million deal though, and if he would, what would the Indians kick in for his final year of arbitration? If it’s the $10 million number that he would likely get at arbitration (or thereabouts), it would come to a four-year, $55 million contract.

That’s not chump change.

Ricky Nolasco just signed a four-year, $49 million deal with the Minnesota Twins.

Is Justin Masterson better than Ricky Nolasco?

Yes.

Why?

Perhaps if you look at long-term numbers, you could make a weak case that Nolasco and Masterson are similar.

The problem is that in two of the past three seasons, Masterson has skirted the edge of being an elite pitcher. Nolasco has never been an elite pitcher by any standard. Is Nolasco worth the money he was paid? I guess it all depends on what you consider the value of a win, and the value of an innings-eater, and the value of a middle of the rotation starter.

Masterson isn’t an ace, but his ceiling has always been just a touch below.

With his K-Rate in the land of 9’s, I would say that his ceiling just might be a touch above.

That means that Masterson will likely command something more than Nolasco’s four-year deal.

Let’s go back to that four years and $55 million dollar deal, which would actually be a three-year deal, with his final arbitration year bought out.

Would the Indians do it, and perhaps the better question, would Masterson?

The answer to both of those questions are murky.

With regards to the Indians, I would have to say yes.

Why?

Because four years of Justin Masterson in the future would suggest to be a better return than a youngster with six years of control.

Remember Trevor Bauer?

The Indians history of dealing for and measuring youngsters hasn’t been very good. That’s why the Tribe doesn’t have an abundance of young pitchers.

They took what appears to be a flier on Trevor Bauer last year, and it’s not looking good. While there are many years to go before we can call it a bust, that’s the unknown.

Of course, the Indians could net a return of a youngster that they deem more locked and loaded for future success, but will it really get better than Bauer, who most said was a top ten prospect when the Indians drafted him, and in some circles, was still the top pitching prospect in all of baseball?

Justin Masterson is the perfect candidate for the Indians to sign long-term right now, from their side.

I don’t see the Indians going five-years and $75 million for the starter right now, as it truly would be something unprecedented for the Indians to offer.

Unfortunately, it may be the only way the Indians have what it takes to sign Masterson.

What would Masterson accept?

It’s hard to say.

If you started with Scott Kazmir’s $11 million dollar, two-year deal, he is clearly going to command more than that. I start there simply because the Indians weren’t willing to make that offer to Scott Kazmir, and I have to believe it’s based on the simple fact that Kazmir has had injury issues in the past.

They would value an innings-eater, like Masterson, far more than Kazmir, even if Kazmir has more upside.

Why?

That’s just the way they do business, even with the change in market from year-to-year.

Let’s move to Nolasco, whom tends to be healthy, tends to be an innings eater, and received a contract from a small market team that many would consider over-market value.

Masterson’s agent clearly understands that his client is much better than Nolasco. He also will likely point to several other deals of pitchers that Masterson is more similar to, such as Anibal Sanchez.

Now, Sanchez signed a five-year, $88 million deal with the Tigers, has been an innings eater, has had an ERA under 4.00 for much of his career, and has had above average FIP and xFIP’s over the years. Last season, he was downright elite, with a 2.31 FIP, and a 2.91 xFIP.

Masterson’s never had that elite level, but neither has Sanchez. Sanchez has a career FIP of 3.55 and a career xFIP of 3.84, while Masterson’s career FIP is 3.81 and has a career xFIP of 3.82.

Look, those are surface numbers, and utilizing those random-esque numbers is very simplistic to hold true in a real conversation about the two, but it does serve the point to say that on the surface, you could make a case that Masterson could absolutely command that in the right market.

As a matter of fact, if Masterson were able to replicate his 2013 season in this market, he could actually command more money than Sanchez, especially if the right team is in the hunt.

What does that mean for Masterson this year?

I would have to imagine that he’s looking for a five or six-year deal if he’s going to sign prior to the end of 2014. I would also imagine that he would likely have a floor of $15 million a year.

Would the Indians be willing to move away from their three-year (or four, counting his arbitration year) model for signing pitchers, which would be the exception, not the rule?

I just don’t think so.

It really depends on the numbers, and it really depends on the big picture plan that is in place for the Tribe, meaning, a lot could depend on what happens with regards to Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and other players that may or may not be dealt.

A lot could depend on the free agents that the Indians ultimately bring in.

A lot could depend on what happens with regards to Carrasco and Bauer, if either start to develop once the season starts, if the Indians don’t move or sign Masterson by the beginning of April.

Terry Francona made a big statement yesterday, regarding their top pitcher.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Francona said. “I called him and told him this morning that if he has been reading it, it’s false. That’s the world we live in today with the Internet and everything else.”

I believe Francona.

Francona followed up with everything that we already knew, in his discussion with Kevin Kleps from Crain’s Cleveland Business.

“We lost two good pitchers,” the reigning American League Manager of the Year said. “We want (Carlos) Carrasco to pitch. That’s one spot. Josh Tomlin is coming back from Tommy John (surgery). We’re not sure what’s there.

“We’re trying to build depth,” Francona continued. “Trevor Bauer could be in the mix. We gotta find a back-of-the-end bullpen guy because we lost Chris Perez and Joe Smith. We have some work to do, but we have some people in place. We should get Danny Salazar for a full year this year. And we have Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister, two young guys that should be better.”

Does that sound like someone who is willing to trade away Justin Masterson?

Does that sound like someone who isn’t going to do whatever he can to keep Masterson on this team?

That’s the wildcard in all of this.

The new approach.

Thusfar, the Indians haven’t shown a willingness to do much with their rotation with regards to long-term deals. Of course, the Indians haven’t really had much of an opportunity since Francona was hired.

Yes, they let Kazmir walk.

He was a low-cost flier prior to 2013, and he received a substantial raise.

I think he’s worth it.

I understand why the Indians didn’t move on him, even though it drives me crazy.

Yes, they have appeared to let Ubaldo Jimenez walk, and he will receive a substantial raise.

I don’t think he’s worth the money he gets.

Could he be?

Sure, and I hope he proves everyone wrong again.

It’s hard to forget his two prior years of struggle though.

I have to imagine that the Indians see this as well.

Masterson is different though. His highs certainly won’t be as high as both Ubaldo and Kazmir, although his spike in K-Rate has me wondering.

His lows certainly won’t be as low as either either.

In other words, he’s a Cleveland sorta pitcher.

He may just be the guy that the Indians are willing to sign long-term.

He’s safe.

Of course, so was Jake Westbrook, and look what happened to him.

It’s called risk, and the Indians have been a risk-aversive team over the years.

What will they do with Masterson?

My hope is that they find some middle ground with him in the next two months and get a deal done. If it becomes clear that he’s expecting long-term money and years that is beyond their means, then they need to deal him if they can get something back that is better than a first round pick.

Either way, they need to address this now, and not wait for later.

Let’s hope they can get the deal done.

2 thoughts on “Trading Justin Masterson at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

  1. Pingback: Wondering what the Indians are doing on the Sunday Drive | Everybody Hates Cleveland

  2. Pingback: Optimistic offense at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario | Cleveland Sports Insiders

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