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Masterson, Indians avoid arbitration with one-year deal

Right-hander agrees to $9.7625 million contract ahead of hearing

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Justin Masterson left Cleveland's complex on Tuesday morning hoping to settle his contract situation before boarding a flight to Florida. Neither the pitcher nor the ballclub wanted to have his case go all the way to an arbitration hearing.

Masterson never made it to the airport.

"I'm here for this season, man," Masterson said before leaving the clubhouse.

Cleveland announced that it signed Masterson to a one-year contract to avoid arbitration, ending talks just in time to skip the four-hour flight to St. Petersburg to prepare for Thursday's hearing. In what could be his final season in an Indians uniform, Masterson will earn $9,762,500 as the unquestioned leader of the Tribe's rotation.

The only issue that remains unsolved is potentially keeping Masterson away from the open market via a long-term extension. The two sides went back and forth on multiyear talks over the winter, and the pitcher said his camp revisited the idea in the past few days, but both parties agreed to focus on the one-year pact for the time being.

Long-term discussions will likely be rekindled later this spring.

"We remain open-minded," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We haven't set any sort of deadlines, but there's a natural deadline of the start of the season. I think we've all agreed -- not in Justin's case specifically, but just generally -- we like the focus to be on the field once the season starts.

"For that reason, we tend not to negotiate contracts during the season."

That said, Masterson has made it known that he is willing to negotiate during the regular season, if necessary.

"We've got plenty of time to work on anything like that," said Masterson, who is eligible for free agency next winter. "It's just working through it, what the value is, what's reasonable pay, how things work. It's a different system, especially when you've got to be really smart about how you move your money around and you want to make sure you're making a good investment.

"You've got to truly believe in the guy. Not that they don't truly believe in me, but it's what you're working through in that process. It's easy for us when it's not our money to throw it around and say, 'Just do this.' When it's your own money, you say, 'I think we're going to think about this a little bit more.' It doesn't bother me."

The one-year deal helped the Indians avoid what would have been their third arbitration hearing this year, following a streak of 22 years without going to a hearing with any players. This month, Cleveland won in hearings against pitchers Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin.

Masterson had been seeking $11.8 million through arbitration, but the Indians were only offering $8.05 million at the time salary figures were exchanged. The right-hander's new contract falls a touch under the mid-point of $9.925 million.

"I feel like we're giving," Masterson said, "but also getting stuff that's fair and reasonable."

The pitcher earned $5,687,500 for the Indians last season.

During Tuesday's morning workout, Masterson threw off a mound in a bullpen session with Antonetti and assistant general manager Mike Chernoff monitoring the workout. Chernoff had been heading the Tribe's side of the arbitration cases and -- like Masterson -- was going to face a cross-country flight if the sides could not shake hands.

The gust felt around the complex was a collective sigh of relief.

"It's great to have it all resolved," Antonetti said. "Our clear preference in each of the cases was to try to negotiate settlements. We're really happy that we were able to do that in Justin's case. Our preference would've been to do that with all of the guys, but we just weren't able to line up on value."

Masterson, who will turn 29 years old in March, went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings for the Indians last season. The sinkerballer made his first American League All-Star team and ended the season with a team-high 195 strikeouts. He has gone 44-55 with a 4.08 ERA in parts of five seasons with Cleveland.

Over the past three years, Masterson has gone 37-35 with a 3.86 ERA in 100 games, averaging 171 strikeouts, 76 walks and 205 innings per season. The righty might have surpassed 200 innings last summer had it not been for an oblique injury that shelved him for most of September.

During Cleveland's stretch run to a Wild Card berth, Masterson put his ego aside and willingly embraced a relief role in the final week and in the team's lone postseason game.

"Justin's developed into one of the leaders on our team," Antonetti said, "not only with his performance on the field, but the way he carries himself and his team-first approach and mentality. [That was] evidenced by the fact that he was our most consistent starter for the majority of the season, but yet he was willing to come back and pitch out of the 'pen at the end of the season and in the postseason to just help the team.

"I think that speaks directly to his mentality and his mind-set about doing anything he can do help the team."

That is the kind of player the Indians hope to have around beyond just 2014.

"For however long I'm here, I hope he's here," Indians manager Terry Francona said last week. "I think everybody feels that way."

Masterson smiled when he learned about Francona's comments.

"We've had fun [here]," Masterson said. "Just as Tito says, as long as he's here, I want to be here."

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