I truly despise using the old “in our market” excuse. It is the single worst thing about the game I love the most, Major League Baseball. We all know that the sport is completely unbalanced—the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers can do whatever they want thanks to rich local TV contracts while our Cleveland Indians have to watch every penny. Chris Antonetti’s job is that much harder because he can’t afford to swing and miss on medium-money free agents. On top of that, the drafting and developing of young players is paramount to the success of the organization.
The Tribe hasn’t exactly been the St. Louis Cardinals with their draft picks. A large core of the team, however—both present and future—was shaped by solid, under-the-radar deals made by Antonetti and his predecessor, current Team President Mark Shapiro. Look at the rotation as of today: Justin Masterson was brought over from Boston in the Victor Martinez deal; Corey Kluber was the player who came to Cleveland in a trade-deadline deal of Jake Westbrook; Zach McAllister was added for everyone’s favorite fifth outfielder Austin Kearns. Two of the three guys battling for the fifth job—Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer—were part of deals for Cliff Lee and Shin-Soo Choo, respectively.
Michael Brantley? He of the brand spankin’ new contract extension? He was a Player to be Named Later in the CC Sabathia trade back in 2008. Your catching duo of Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana? You can thank the Esmil Rogers and Casey Blake for those two. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is most likely in his last year in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue, came from Seattle for Eduardo Perez in 2006.
I harp on the importance of the development of the young players because if this doesn’t happen, the Indians cannot compete. It is that simple.
Masterson was one of those young, developing players the Indians acquired for a veteran favorite son in Martinez. We have watched Justin grow from a guy who looked like he’d be better off as a late-inning reliever to a top-of-the-rotation starter. And like Lee, Sabathia and so many others before him, the Tribe’s ace is coming up on a free agent pay day that will be too rich for Tribe blood. Antonetti says all the right things and I truly believe that they would love to sign the big right-hander long term. He is a good guy in the clubhouse and the community as well as a quality player. Masterson is comfortable in Cleveland especially with his former manager in Boston, Terry Francona, steering the S.S. Wahoo. If anyone would consider a “hometown discount” to stay in Cleveland, Masterson would be that guy.
But you can forget all of that now. Why? Look no further than three and a half hours down I-71 South.
Earlier this week, the Cincinnati Reds and right-handed starter Homer Bailey agreed on a six-year, $105 million contract extension. Bailey is a former first round pick who turns 28 years old in May and has come into his own the last two seasons, including two no-hitters. Bailey is a solid comparison to Masterson; he is a high-strikeout guy with an unlimited ceiling. Take a look at their last three seasons side-by-side:
2011 Masterson Age 26 – 34 starts/216 IP/6.58 K per 9/2.71 BB per 9/0.46 HR per 9/ .302 BABIP/4.3 WAR/3.21 ERA/12-10
2011 Bailey Age 25 – 22 starts – 132 IP/7.23 K per 9/2.25 BB per 9/1.23 HR per 9/.296 BABIP/1.3 WAR/4.34 ERA/9-7
2012 Masterson Age 27 – 34 starts – 206.1 IP/6.94 K per 9/3.84 BB per 9/0.79 HR per 9/.309 BABIP/1.9 WAR/4.93 ERA/11-15
2012 Bailey Age 26 – 33 starts – 208 IP/7.27 K per 9/2.25 BB per 9/1.13 HR per 9/.290 BABIP/2.5 WAR/3.68 ERA/13-10
2013 Masterson Age 28 – 29 starts – 193 IP/9.09 K per 9/3.54 BB per 9/0.61 HR per 9/.285 BABIP/3.4 WAR/3.45 ERA/14-10
2013 Bailey Age 27 – 32 starts – 209 IP/8.57 K per 9/2.33 BB per 9/0.86 HR per 9/.284 BABIP/3.7 WAR/3.49 ERA/11-12
Bailey and Masterson are in the heart of their primes, with Bailey a couple of years younger. Six years for Homer seems a lot less of a risk than it does for Masterson, who has that funky delivery which at times has given him issues. Regardless, both are starters than any team would love to have. Masterson’s agents aren’t dumb – they will see that six year, $105 million deal and use that are some sort of a guide for his negotiations. If that is the case, you might as well forget a return to Cleveland for Justin next year.
That is not a bad thing.
“In our market” you just cannot be giving anyone six years and $100 million plus, especially when that player only pitches once every five games and isn’t a true “ace.” I like Masterson a lot, but he is more Homer Bailey than he is Justin Verlander, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, etc. So the Indians will more than likely go the Ubaldo Jimenez route with him; ride out the season, hope for the best, extend him the qualifying offer of just over $14 million, watch him turn it down, and then collect the first round draft pick for losing him to free agency.
With Masterson all but gone after the 2014 season, the pressure on the younger pitchers to develop into solid pieces of a rotation will be immense. Danny Salazar has star written all over him; he will need to replace what Ubaldo Jimenez brought down the stretch in 2013. The reigns will be off and I fully expect we will see him soar. More important than Salazar, however, are Bauer and Carrasco.
When the enigmatic Bauer was brought over from Arizona, the thought was a change of scenery would do the now 23-year-old right-hander good. He was a dominant starter at UCLA and through the minors for the Diamondbacks. We saw him make four spot starts with the Tribe last season. The results were mixed. Everyone knows now that Bauer was in the midst of completely revamping his delivery. The kid is as smart as they come, but he is also stubborn. An up and down 2013 season, including being passed over for a September call up was a humbling experience for Bauer. He spent his winter refining his mechanics and kept the Indians in the loop the entire time. Upon his return to Spring Training in Goodyear, manager Terry Francona gave initial rave reviews.
“It was night and day, night and day,” said Francona. “We’re thrilled. Again, we’re not evaluating, but he looked different. I think we’re really excited. Again, he hasn’t faced a hitter yet, but he looked like a different pitcher. That was nice to see.”
Then there is Carrasco.
At this point, Carlos has become almost the forgotten man. It is amazing to think this will be his fifth season in the Indians organization and he is still just 26 years old (will be 27 in March) . We know about the live arm and the mid-to-high 90’s fastball, but we also know about his reputation as being a head case. There is no point in bringing up his past suspensions for throwing at players—that is now all in the past. The future for Carrasco is now. The Indians are banking on Carlos to pitch his way into the rotation this Spring. He looked good in the pen in September last season and is out of options. Francona is on record as saying one way or another, he will make the team.
They would prefer it as the team’s fifth starter. He worked all winter with the assistance of pitching coach Mickey Calloway on altering his delivery.
“They’ve lifted his lead arm a little bit,” Francona said, “just to create a little deception and some angle on his fastball. I know he’s comfortable. He’s had a good winter. He’s strong. He’s excited. It’s his time to go show what he can do.”
The hope is that Carrasco can build off of his quality September in the pen and take that right into the rotation. Nobody has ever questioned his arm. It is between the ears that is the concern.
Here is the bottom line: The future of the Indians as a contending team in the American League rests with the development of Salazar, Bauer, and Carrasco from prospects to a quality rotation at the Major League level. If Salazar becomes the star that the Indians hope he can be and either Bauer and/or Carrasco can harness their vast abilities and become 200 inning middle of the rotation pieces. Look out. Keep in mind the Tribe has Corey Kluber under club control through the 2018 season. The same goes for Zach McAllister.
Should Carrasco and Bauer hit, your rotation for the next few years will be all but set with Salazar, Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco, and McAllister.