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Indians avoid arbitration with reliever Rzepczynski

Masterson heads quartet of players yet to agree to terms on new contracts

The Cleveland Indians avoided arbitration with one of their half-dozen arbitration-eligible players on Friday, agreeing to terms with reliever Marc Rzepczynski on a one-year contract worth $1.375 million. A quartet of others, including ace Justin Masterson, exchanged arbitration offers with the club as the two sides worked to avoid potential arbitration hearings next month.

Rzepczynski joins left-hander Josh Outman -- who agreed to a one-year deal earlier this week -- as arbitration-eligible players to come to terms on new contracts with the club. Rzepczynski, eligible for arbitration for a second time, will receive a raise from his $1.1 million salary negotiated with the Cardinals last year.

Acquired by Cleveland at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the 28-year-old left-hander allowed just two earned runs on 11 hits over 20 1/3 innings with the Indians, striking out 20 and walking six.

For the season, Rzepczynski posted a 3.23 ERA, allowing 11 earned runs on 27 hits over 30 2/3 innings with 10 walks and 29 strikeouts. His new deal includes incentives of $25,000 for 55 games pitched, and another $25,000 at 60 appearances.

Along with Masterson, left fielder Michael Brantley and right-handers Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin had yet to sign by Friday's 1 p.m. ET deadline to exchange salary proposals. An arbitrator would choose between the two offers following a February hearing, but teams and players can negotiate an agreement anytime before a hearing.

If necessary, the arbitration hearings will take place from Feb. 1-21, but Cleveland has not gone to a hearing with a player since 1991.

Masterson's case carries the most weight, and the two sides have the greatest difference on salary. Masterson filed at Friday's deadline for $11.8 million, while the Indians countered with an $8.05 million offer. While the two sides try to bridge that gap, they're expected to continue talks on a long-term extension.

Last season, the 28-year-old Masterson won a career-high 14 games, turned in a 3.45 ERA, pitched three shutouts and ended the season with 195 strikeouts in 193 innings. He threw the first and last pitches of the regular season for Cleveland and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team.

Masterson has logged at least 180 innings in each of the past four seasons and was poised for a third straight campaign with at least 200 innings until an oblique injury sidelined him in September. Late in the month, while Cleveland pushed toward the AL's top Wild Card spot, the sinkerballer accepted a late-inning relief role, which he served in during the final week and in the AL Wild Card Game.

Cleveland's most prominent first-time arbitration case is Brantley, who hit .284 with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBIs in 151 games last season. Over the past two years, the left fielder has hit a combined .286 with a .739 OPS and an average of 150 games per season. Brantley hit .375 with runners in scoring position in '13 and ended the year with 11 outfield assists.

Brantley filed for $3.8 million, compared with a $2.7 million offer from the team.

Pestano and Tomlin are both entering their first winter of arbitration eligibility. Pestano filed for $1.45 million, compared with a $975,000 offer from the club, after posting a 4.08 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 37 appearances (35 1/3 innings) last season for the Indians. The right-hander had a 2.45 ERA with 160 strikeouts across 137 games (132 innings) for the Tribe in 2011-12, setting the club's single-season holds record (36) in '12.

Tomlin and the Indians have the smallest gap to settle -- Tomlin filing at $975,000, the team at $800,000. He appeared in only one game for the Indians in '13, but he spent the bulk of the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. As a first-time arbitration eligible, however, his case will be judged on his entire career, not just last season.

The starter has gone 23-19 with a 4.92 ERA in 60 career games for Cleveland over parts of four seasons. Tomlin, who will compete for a rotation or bullpen job this spring, had his best season in '11, when he went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
Read More: Cleveland Indians, Marc Rzepczynski