Short-term deal may give Masterson security he seeks
Negotiations continue as sides try to keep right-hander with Indians
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Justin Masterson strolled from the Indians clubhouse into a hallway and smirked upon seeing reporters on Tuesday morning. With extension talks ongoing with Cleveland, the big right-hander knows the pack is always looking for even a tiny scrap of news.
"Nothing yet," Masterson said with a grin.
Masterson disappeared into the training room, taking any information with him.
By Tuesday night, there was a development. MLB.com learned that, as first reported by CBSSports.com, Masterson might be willing to pen his name on a shorter-term contract (three or four years) in order to remain with the Indians for the next few years.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has a policy of not commenting on ongoing talks.
According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, Masterson's camp presented what it considered to be a fair number to Cleveland over the weekend. Masterson would likely fetch a long-term deal as a free agent next offseason, but his affinity for pitching for Indians manager Terry Francona, as well as serving as a mentor and leader for the Tribe's rotation, makes staying put an appealing prospect.
Both Antonetti and Masterson's agent, Randy Rowley, have stated a preference for trying to strike a deal before Opening Day, if possible. The sides do not want the pitcher's contract situation to present any kind of distraction as Cleveland tries to build on last summer's postseason run.
After pitching against the Reds on Thursday, Masterson did not sound overly concerned with the discussions.
"You hire people to work for that," Masterson said. "We have our understanding, and in the end, it all takes care of itself. I think I've been blessed with the ability to just go out and play the game. Everything else falls into place."
Masterson also said that "somehow, someway" he would wind up remaining in an Indians uniform for at least a few more years.
Cleveland engaged in long-term talks with Masterson, who turns 29 years old on March 22, over the offseason, but talks stalled as the pitcher's Feb. 20 arbitration hearing neared. Under the circumstances, the sides agreed to concentrate on a one-year deal and avoided arbitration on Feb. 18 with a salary of $9,762,500 for the 2014 campaign.
One day later, the Reds signed right-hander Homer Bailey to a six-year pact worth $105 million.
Throughout contract talks, Masterson's agent was monitoring Bailey's situation, because of the pitchers' similarities. Masterson (5.108) and Bailey (5.017) head into this season with nearly the same Major League service time and comparable statistics. Over the past three years, Masterson has gone 37-35 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 615 1/3 innings, and Bailey has gone 33-29 with a 3.79 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 549 innings.
Last year, Masterson went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 32 apperances, which included three shutouts and a late-season stint as a reliever. Over 193 innings, the sinkerballer struck out 195 and walked 76, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team in the process.
What the Indians are not willing to do -- no matter how close Masterson is to Bailey in years or numbers -- is hand their staff leader the kind of contract Cincinnati doled out. That said, there is a chance that Masterson could net a lucrative long-term deal on the open market next offseason, especially if would-be free-agent Jon Lester gets his wish and re-signs with the Red Sox.
Another element to the discussions with Masterson is the qualifying offer system that went into effect prior to last season. In stands to reason that -- without a multiyear deal in place -- Cleveland would extend a qualifying offer to Masterson next offseason in order to secure Draft-pick compensation. That approach has hurt some free agents' asking prices in the past two winters.
The Indians took that approach this offseason with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who signed a four-year deal worth $50 million with Baltimore early in the spring. At the start of the offseason, Jimenez was seeking at least $60 million. Outfielder Nelson Cruz declined his qualifying offer from Texas and settled for a one-year, $8-million contract with the Orioles. Ervin Santana (also linked to Draft-pick compensation) remains unsigned.
Masterson would likely fall into the same category without signing an extension this spring.
As things currently stand, Detroit's Max Scherzer, Kansas City's James Shields, Lester and Masterson would arguably be the top arms on the market next winter. The Tigers have not ruled out signing Scherzer to an extension, and the same holds true for Lester, meaning the market could play into Masterson's hand.
It is no secret, though, that Masterson values his relationship with Francona, who also had the pitcher during their days with the Red Sox. With newborn twins (a boy and a girl) and another young daughter, Masterson is also keen on the idea of security and comfort for his family.
If Masterson were willing to accept a three-year contract -- a period in which the Indians would seemingly be a contender in the American League Central -- he could then enter the free-agent market at 32 years old. Francona, whose current contract runs through 2016, has made it clear that he would love to see the pitcher stick around.
"For however long I'm here, I hope he's here," Francona said earlier this spring. "I think everybody feels that way."