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Tribe mulling Masterson reunion

Dealt in July, righty may return on short-term deal
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Less than a year ago, the Indians were discussing a multiyear contract extension for sinkerballer Justin Masterson. At the time, the pitcher was expected to be one of the premier arms available through free agency this offseason.

The talks between Masterson and Cleveland broke down, the right-hander was traded to the Cardinals in July and now he is looking to re-establish himself with a short-term deal. Given their strong history and rapport with Masterson, the Indians are one of about a dozen teams that have already checked in with the pitcher's camp this winter.

CLEVELAND -- Less than a year ago, the Indians were discussing a multiyear contract extension for sinkerballer Justin Masterson. At the time, the pitcher was expected to be one of the premier arms available through free agency this offseason.

The talks between Masterson and Cleveland broke down, the right-hander was traded to the Cardinals in July and now he is looking to re-establish himself with a short-term deal. Given their strong history and rapport with Masterson, the Indians are one of about a dozen teams that have already checked in with the pitcher's camp this winter.

"We're not eliminating any options or opportunities," Randy Rowley, Masterson's agent, said Friday. "The Indians have expressed an interest, and why wouldn't they? I've heard from plenty of clubs expressing an interest and some make more sense than others."

The Indians ended the season with a strong five-man rotation, which was led by American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and T.J. House round out the staff, but Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti has made it known that the club is in the market for pitching depth this winter.

Video: CLE@TEX: Masterson strikes out six over 5 2/3

Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister are also on the Tribe's rotation depth chart, but the Indians are looking for alternatives to solidify the middle or back-end of the starting staff. McAllister is out of options, but could shift to a relief role. House and Tomlin both have Minor League options, giving Cleveland the ability to send them to Triple-A to begin the season, if the team added a starter or two this winter.

Where would Masterson fit into the picture? Cleveland's former Opening Day starter would no longer be the leader of the staff, but the Indians would probably consider throwing him into the mix on a one-year deal. That would be an adjustment for the big right-hander, who grew into a leadership role during his six-year stay in Cleveland.

Rowley was not worried about such issues, especially with Antonetti and manager Terry Francona still at the helm for the Tribe.

"If anyone's ego can handle that it would be Justin," Rowley said. "That's not a consideration that I'd be concerned with. It's the same club and the same leadership that Justin was willing to sign [an extension] with last year, because of his affinity and affection for the front office people and Tito. In that respect, it hasn't changed."

Video: BOS@CLE: Masterson throws 25 consecutive strikes

All of that said, Masterson might be able to find better job security, or a multiyear deal, elsewhere this winter.

From 2011-13, the 29-year-old Masterson went 37-35 with a 3.86 ERA and an average of 205 innings per season. In '13, the righty made the All-Star team and finished with 14 wins, a 3.45 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 193 innings. Masterson was a key reason behind the Indians' run to the postseason that year, returning as a late-inning weapon in late September after dealing with an oblique injury.

The oblique injury led to tenderness in Masterson's ribcage area during Spring Training before this season, but the pitcher kept quiet about the issue. Francona had named him the Opening Day starter and Rowley was attempting to work out a multiyear contract with Cleveland at the time. Masterson did not feel the problem was serious enough to bring it up at the time.

During the season's first half, Kluber and Tomlin pointed out to Masterson that his stride in his delivery had lengthened. Masterson was compensating for the soreness in his side and the result was inflammation in his right knee. Cleveland traded the pitcher to St. Louis on July 30, but the issues persisted to the point of needing an MRI exam.

Video: BOS@CLE: Masterson whiffs 10 over seven scoreless

The Cardinals' staff discovered the scar tissue in Masterson's side and also found an impingement in his right shoulder. The pitcher received a cortisone shot in his arm and underwent a minor procedure to break up the scar tissue. All of the issues combined offer possible reasons behind Masterson's diminished velocity and his uncharacteristic pitching line (7-9, 5.88 ERA in 128 2/3 innings).

Rowley said the pitcher feels back to full strength.

"He's good to go," Rowley said. "He's going to continue in the offseason to do regular work to address that, but he's 100 percent right now. He's fine."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians, Justin Masterson