If the Indians go to arbitration with Justin Masterson, it would seem that they can say goodbye to signing him to a multiyear deal. I know the Indians don't have as much money to spend as some other teams, but isn't this situation ridiculous?
-- Harvey R., Cleveland
This type of situation is actually becoming more common among teams. The unpredictability of the current pitching market, which has been complicated by Draft pick compensation tied to qualifying offers, has made it increasingly difficult to predict what a pitcher might make as a free agent. That is why pitchers such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are still unsigned this winter.
The longer a free agent waits, the more likely it is that the price tag will drop. Next winter, Masterson could be in a similar situation if Cleveland extends a one-year qualifying offer prior to his electing free agency. Right now, that possibility can muddle projections for what a pitcher such as Masterson might be worth in terms of dollars and years over a multiyear pact.
At the moment, the Indians and Masterson's camp are concentrating on a one-year deal, which may or may not require an arbitration hearing on Feb. 20. You can bet that the sides are paying attention to a similar situation that is ongoing between the Reds and pitcher Homer Bailey, whose arbitration hearing is scheduled for the same day. Whether it's a one-year deal or an extension, Masterson's next contract might be similar.
Masterson, who turns 29 in March, has requested a salary of $11.8 million, and the Indians have offered $8.05 million, following him earning $5,687,500 in 2013. Bailey, who turns 28 in May, is seeking $11.6 million compared to Cincinnati's offer of $8.7 million, after the righty made $5.35 million in '13. Both Masterson and Bailey have expressed a willingness to discuss a long-term deal.
Over the past three years, Masterson posted a 3.86 ERA, 2.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.31 WHIP and 100 ERA+ over 615 1/3 innings. In that same span, Bailey put up a 3.79 ERA, 3.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.21 WHIP and 105 ERA+ in 549 innings. Over his six-year career, Masterson has a 4.03 ERA to go along with a 100 ERA+, while Bailey has a 4.25 ERA and 96 ERA+ in parts of seven seasons.
Masterson is likely seeking a deal of at least three or four years, but the Indians could easily cite his inconsistent performance over the past four seasons while countering. From 2010-13 (in order), Masterson posted an ERA of 4.70, 3.21, 4.93 and 3.45 and an ERA+ of 84, 122, 79 and 109. That said, Masterson's leadership on the mound and in the clubhouse makes him a player to potentially build around.
If the Indians sign another starter and someone like Shaun Marcum (non-roster invitee) impresses in the spring, is there any chance Danny Salazar starts in Triple-A?
-- @RyanInCLE (via Twitter)
No, I don't see a scenario in which Salazar opens in the Minors. It would take a complete derailment on the mound this spring by the young right-hander, and that seems farfetched. If I had to choose a weak link, it might be righty Zach McAllister, who can be optioned without being exposed to waivers. That said, McAllister is a sure bet to open the year as the fourth starter, as things currently stand.
After reading some rumors, is there any chance of the Tribe signing Bronson Arroyo?
-- @anotherRube (via Twitter)
Recent reports had Arroyo seeking a three-year deal, but there is no way the Indians would go that route with a pitcher who turns 37 later this month. Arroyo has a history with manager Terry Francona, is not linked to Draft-pick compensation and has averaged 200-plus innings for the past decade. That said, I think it'd have to be a one-year deal (or one plus an option) for Cleveland to get involved. I could be wrong, but I don't see it happening.
What happens with the closer in the long-term picture? Vinnie Pestano? Carlos Carrasco?
-- @marty_kurtz (via Twitter)
It's worth noting that John Axford would be eligible for arbitration over the next two winters, following the one-year contract he signed with the Indians this offseason. Of course, that also makes Axford a non-tender candidate next winter, depending on what happens this season. Beyond the Ax Man, youngster Cody Allen would be the favorite to be a future closer. Pestano needs to earn his way back into the late innings, and Carrasco is still viewed as a starter for the time being.
Do you think Josh Tomlin or Carrasco could end up in the bullpen to start the season?
-- @cgoodies5 (via Twitter)
If Carrasco does not win the fifth-starter job and is not injured, I think you'll see him in the Opening Day bullpen. The right-hander is out of options and is in the plans for the pitching staff in some capacity. Tomlin could win a rotation job, and he could also be a long man out of the 'pen, but my guess is he'd be starting at Triple-A if he does not win an Opening Day role as a starter.
Who will be the first player to earn a callup from the Minors?
-- @willrettig (via Twitter)
That's a better question for after the Opening Day roster is revealed, but it's fair to assume that the bullpen might need an extra hand or two early in the year. Along those lines, young arms to keep an eye on this season include C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, Austin Adams, Bryan Price and Kyle Crockett. If Nick Hagadone doesn't make the roster out of camp, he's also a sure bet for a quick call. Two others could be starter Trevor Bauer and utility infielder Jose Ramirez.
In closing ...
Which player could benefit most from a beard in 2014? And who will have the most ill-advised facial hair?
-- @EdTheRevelator (via Twitter)
Releasing former closer Chris Perez robbed the Indians' bullpen of one of the finer beards in baseball, but the signing of Axford reeled in the 2011 winner of the Mustached American of the Year honor by the American Mustache Institute. If third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall tries a mustache again, there's your ill-advised facial hair. Last July, Masterson quipped that shaving his beard contributed to a poor outing against Detroit. Maybe this year he could benefit from keeping the look throughout the summer.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.