Indians, Justin Masterson pause extension talks, focus on one-year deal

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mastersonstWith their scheduled arbitration hearing approaching, the Indians and ace Justin Masterson have shelved discussions of a long-term deal and are focusing on a one-year solution.

The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes reported the update on Monday evening. Discussions are continuing between the team and Masterson’s agent Randy Rowley.

The filing difference between the two parties — $11.8 million from Masterson, $8.05 million from the Indians — was the largest in baseball this offseason. That’s what has led the Indians to say it’s “very likely” their 23-year run of avoiding arbitration will soon end. Masterson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

MLB Trade Rumors expected Masterson to receive $9.7 million for 2014. There had been previous speculation of a five-year $75 million extension, including his final arbitration-eligible season of 2014. That would then equate to a four-year deal of about $65 million.

Surprisingly, the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto also shared the Indians may be headed to arbitration with starter/reliever Josh Tomlin. He filed for $975,000, but the team filed for $800,000. It seems peculiar, considering the team’s long-time aversion to hearings. This one is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Eventually, Cleveland’s front office is expected to reach one-year deals with outfielder Michael Brantley and reliever Vinnie Pestano. Both are a couple years away from free agency and the filing differences — Brantley: $3.8 million v. $2.7 million; Pestano: $1.145 million v. $975,000 — weren’t that significant.

[Related: The Diff: What’s up with Justin Masterson’s Indians future?]

Photo: Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer

  • Ed Carroll

    I’d be ecstatic over a 2/$20 mil deal. That’s my top preference. Second would just be a one-year settlement and then let him walk at the end of the year.

  • Ed Carroll

    And the idea of Josh Tomlin in arbitration makes me want to punch a wall for some reason.

  • Steve

    That’s an incorrect reading of the tweet. The arbitration hearing is on Feb 20. Not that they’d settle on 2/$20M

  • Harv 21

    I think this means a quick end for Masterson here. No reason for him to go 2 years when a long deal at market price awaits if he’s healthy. And doubt the FO will let him just walk at the end of the season for nothing – they haven’t done that with an excellent player in his prime in years. At an affordable $10m for a front of the rotation type guy he’s crazy tradeable. The Tribe explored the outside possibility of a multiyear they could live with and nothing doing. Probably smart for both sides. Believe Masty’s gone by the trade deadline, maybe even by the end of spring training.

  • mgbode

    or, we ride out the season, then give him the QO and let him try his hand on the marketplace w/ a draft pick compensation attached. the Ubaldo method allows us to stay as competitive as possible now, doesn’t get the negative PR of trading him away, and gives the slight chance that we can get him to return if the marketplace is cooler to him than expected.

  • Steve

    All depends if we’re competing or not. But if we’re not in a playoff spot this year, the team can’t afford to wait on a draft pick when they could get some higher level minor leaguers now.

  • boomhauertjs

    I agree 2014 is his last year here. They’ll only trade him if they’re out of the race.

  • Harv 21

    I keep forgetting about the draft pick we’d now get, and it does change the equation somewhat. But I don’t think he’s viewed as a Callaway psyche job like Ubaldo. If he pitches well this spring I’m still sure Antonetti’s moving him, knowing prospects who have shown something in the minors are safer than an amateur draft pick.

  • Ed Carroll

    Huh, wonder where I saw 2/$20 mil then. ONE-YEAR ONLY THEN!!! :)

  • Ed Carroll

    Even if he doesn’t come back via the QO, Tribe likely got his best years and is likely best served letting him walk.

  • Steve

    WFNY seems to have scrubbed the line. It originally said 2/$20M, linking to a Bastian tweet. Now we just have the MLBTR wild speculation about what an extension might be.

  • Ed Carroll

    Ok, well that’s better than me being crazy and seeing things.

  • Steve

    And to make it clear, that 5/$75M doesn’t come from anyone actually involved in a possible Masterson extension, or even a source. It’s MLBTR taking a wild guess. There seems to be nothing of actual substance linking Masterson to an extension like that.

  • Ed Carroll

    Yes, though I have seen similar numbers speculated (NOT reported) from a couple other sites so it could be the ballpark figure they’re discussing. I think that’s pretty unlikely, at least until after the arb business is settled (i.e. maybe they revisit an extension in Spring Training).

  • woofersus

    It’s pretty common for a site like MLBTR to throw out an estimate like that and then for a bunch of other sites use it as a “source” on a “possible” contract, starting point for negotiations, or whatever. Makes it tough to trace where numbers came from sometimes. At this point all we really know with any certainty at all is that Masterson asked for 11.8 million for 2014 and the Indians countered with 8.05 million, and that they’re currently far enough apart on a long term deal with arbitration approaching that they’ve decided to just work on closing their gap for next season.

    I hate to be a pessimist, but if it seems that if they don’t sign him to an extension now, it’s unlikely to happen at all. Next offseason he’ll be a free agent and if he has a 2014 like his 2013 he’ll probably get offered 17 million or so per year by somebody.

  • Ed Carroll

    You act as if him not signing an extension is an inherently bad thing. I’d rather let him walk than sign him past three years (including 2014, so only two years of FA).

  • cmm13

    Randy Rowley???
    He was fantastic as “the Cable repairman” in that VHS movie my dad keeps under the bed.

  • markn95

    The conventional wisdom re: SP contracts is that it’s not the money that kills you, it’s the years (correct me if I’m wrong). Injuries and general wear and tear are too much of a risk beyond a certain point–which is why a guy like Albert Pujols can sign a 10 (10!) year contract at the age of 31, while a stud, 25-year old ace like Clayton Kershaw gets “only” 7 years from profligate LA. Indeed, based on Kerhsaw and Tanaka each inking 7 year deals in the last 2 weeks, “seven” appears to be the max number of years ANY team, including the mighty Yankees and Dodgers, will go with a SP. After all, it’s not like a SP can DH in the final three years of a career and still contribute to a team.

    So I guess the question is how many years to go with Masterson. He’s 29 on Opening Day, so my guess is he will hold out for as many years as he can get. The 5 years people are throwing around seems the most reasonable; I don’t see any other team going higher than that for a guy who you may or may not be an ace on some teams.

    Thus, total dollars over those 5 years is the big question. Just as an example, Cy Young winner Cliff Lee signed for 5/120 at the age of 32 back in 2010. I use Lee as an example because his total $$$ over 5 years is probably the absolute ceiling for a SP, even in these crazy days. Obviously, Masterson will not get anywhere near that amount. But how close would another team come to that $120M number? I really have no idea. The FA market if insane when it comes to dollars per year for SP’s. Like other commenters have said, I’d do 5/75 in a heartbeat if I’m the Tribe. But would another team (and all it takes is one, of course) go somewhere between $90-100 for 5 years? It’s probably impossible to say at this point, particularly if the QO would cost the signing team a 1st round pick. But if $90-100M is a strong possibility, then maybe it’s best to trade Masterson and see what we can get.

  • woofersus

    Well, losing talented players without obvious replacement IS inherently bad. Whether or not said player would be a good signing for a particular contract is another question altogether.

    Why would you be opposed to more than three years, including this one? He’ll be turning 29 at the beginning of this season, so a 4 year extension would only keep him here through age 32. He’s right in his prime.

  • mgbode

    with the double-wild card there’s a better chance that we’ll be within striking distance in late July. most projections have us around 85 wins, which is competing (if not succeeding in reaching October).

  • mgbode

    Matt Garza just signed a 4yr deal with Milwaukee for between $50mil & $67mil (performance incentives). So, that seems to be right in line with the figures discussed for Masterson (considering the players).

  • woofersus

    That’s true. There were more buyers and fewer sellers last year, and that will probably happen again. It may make for a stronger market for teams who do sell, though. I thought we were an 87-88 win team last year, and I think we’re probably right around there again, barring changes or some more magic with unlikely performances next year. That may put us just close enough that the FO feels like they have to go for it, but either way we’ll probably be a bubble team with difficult decisions to make at the deadline.
    The QO system is nice in that it means teams like the Indians aren’t necessarily forced to trade good players or lose them for nothing, but if he’s pitching REALLY well, then his trade value will be tough to ignore.

  • mgbode

    but, if he is pitching REALLY well, it also likely means that we are playing really well and have a fighting chance at the playoffs.

    and, imagine the PR fiasco if we traded Masterson halfway through a potential Cy Young campaign (instead of the year after one).

  • Steve

    There were some rumors that the medicals were not pretty. Only rumors, so take it with a grain of salt, but that would explain quite a bit.

  • woofersus

    Yeah, probably, although it would theoretically be possible for Masterson to have a career year and other things to horribly wrong. (not that I’m predicting it)

    For sure it would be a PR fiasco, though. I’m not sure the fan base can survive another one of those.

  • Ed Carroll

    Hes in his prime now. And it’s not that great. He’s an above-average SP, who could end up a RP by that point in the deal. He likely won’t improve over the course of any extension. Tribe has already likely gotten his best years. This smacks of the Westbrook situation.

  • Ed Carroll

    Ya Garza’s market suffered due to his medicals. Also, not implying it affects it positively or negatively the same way every time, but a FA deal should NEVER be the basis for a contract extension. Not the same thing. Likely closest comp off the top of my head here is the Lincecum deal.

  • mgbode

    Ummm, I’m hoping that the Indians FO pretends the Lincecum deal never happened. Absolutely putrid deal.

  • Ed Carroll

    Any Masterson extension would likely be just as bad.

  • mgbode

    I don’t think he’d be asking for $18mil/year, but you never know.

  • woofersus

    I don’t know that I would pooh-pooh the idea of an above-average SP, as they tend to be hard to come by and very expensive in FA. And I think Masterson was a little better than “just” above average last year. He was 37th among SP’s in ERA, and 33rd in both WHIP and WAR. Given there were 187 pitchers that started at least 10 games last year, he’s looking pretty good. Only 4 guys threw more complete games than him last year, and he tied for first in shutouts. If he hadn’t lost a few starts at the end due to the strained abdominal muscle, he would have been in the top 20 in innings pitched. He also was 11th in K/9, 10th in opponents’ BA, and 9th in opponents’ OPS.

    I don’t know how that can be described as “not that great.” I know much has been made about whether or not Masterson is a “true ace” or not, but he’s better than quite a few #1’s around the league, and all the really competitive teams have more than one good pitcher, so it’s irrelevant. He’s no Clayton Kershaw, but he’s also not going to cost $31 million per year.

    I also disagree that the ages from 29-32 are generally years of decline for starting pitchers. At 32 you might be on the edge, but it still certainly varies from pitcher to pitcher. Sabatha turned 32 this year and really had his first down year since he was 27. (it remains to be seen, but he may yet bounce back) Cliff Lee didn’t really even blossom into a dominant pitcher until he was 29, and had the lowest ERA and highest K/9 of his career at age 32. Five of the top ten pitchers by ERA last year were older than Masterson, and Darvish was just one year younger. And that’s besides the generous number of older-than-Masterson guys who were very good but not at the very pinnacle, like Scherzer, Wainwright, Shields, Santana, Burnett, Jimenez, Lohse, Verlander, Wilson, Lackey, Hammels, Fister, etc.

    Westbrook was a very different guy than Masterson, partially because of his injury issues over the years, but just for comparison’s sake, his age 25-28 years (ignoring his less-than-full-time 22-24 years, but trust me the numbers are worse) had a total ERA of 4.06. His 29-32 years had a total ERA of 4.16, and at the age of 34 he turned in an ERA of 3.97, good for 2nd best of his career. (not counting 2008’s 3.12 start because he got hurt after 34 innings and missed the rest of the year) The reality is that Westbrook only had two full years with an ERA under 4, and they came at ages 26 and 34. It wasn’t an age thing, it was 3/33 (in 2008!) to a guy who had only had one really good year in his whole career and whose last three had combined for an ERA of 4.33.

    There’s absolutely a limit on how much we can and should spend on a guy like Masterson, and there’s always risk he will be up and down from year to year going forward, or that he’ll break down as he gets into his 30’s, but I don’t think the odds are against him, and I do thing he’s a very good pitcher and we’ll struggle to replace him for less money than he’ll cost.

  • mgbode

    *slow clap*

  • Ed Carroll

    Apologies, as I don’t have the time to dedicate a good response to your (well-written and researched) reply. (This isn’t sarcasm, BTW). Two quick replies tho- I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Westbrook comp, as his health was similar to Masterson’s prior to the deal (pretty good). Also, assuming Masterson’s health with remain stable isnt a given, particularly as he gets on the wrong side of 30.

  • woofersus

    Sorry, I can get long winded, lol

    I will concede that there are a couple of interesting parallels. Masterson’s numbers since he became a full time starter in the majors in 2009 are better than Westbrook’s numbers from 2003-2007, (again, ignoring his first three years that were either split with the minors, injury plagued, or both, but I want to note that his numbers were pretty awful in those years) but only marginally so in most respects. Also, he’s a guy who gave us a tantalizing view of what is possible and then proceeded to underachieve, leaving us to think he should be a better pitcher than he is based on raw talent, and that he probably eventually will be. If Masterson had produced an ERA of 4.30 last year, I’d put him exactly in the same boat as Westbrook in terms of his performance and what we should expect going forward.

    It’s also true that in 2004-2006 he was completely healthy and pitched over 200 innings in each before a minor injury in 2007, which looks fairly similar to Masterson. The major difference is that Westbrook had really been limited before that period, and only averaged 107 inning per season from 2000-2003 between the majors and minors. (and that’s mostly AAA, so no shortened rookie league stuff) Masterson doesn’t really have any history of significant injuries at all in his past, other than a strained oblique this year, and one prior in 2010.