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Justin Masterson Rumors
Indians starter Justin Masterson has been dealing with a “nagging” knee issue since early in the season, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Soreness in his right knee has lingered since his second start of the year, says Masterson, and now will cause him to miss at least one outing. It remains to be seen what this could mean for Masterson’s status as a pending free agent (and possible qualifying offer recipient or even trade candidate). The righty has seen his ERA jump from a 3.45 mark over 193 innings last year to the 5.03 level in his 93 frames in 2014, though his peripherals and ERA estimators show less cause for concern. The larger issue, perhaps, is the fact that his average fastball velocity has dropped from 93.1 mph last year down to 90.5 mph this season.
Here’s more on Masterson and the rest of the AL Central…
- Meanwhile, in response to a reader question, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes that Masterson’s diminished velocity may have played a role in the club’s decision not to come up to the righty’s asking price for an extension. The hurler’s historical inconsistency may have been the greater factor, says Bastian.
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn says that recent draftee Carlos Rodon (who went third overall) could be in the club’s rotation as early as next year, reports Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. “Based on our scouting evaluation that’s certainly a possibility,” said Hahn. “But until you get a guy in and get to know him and spend day in and day out with him, I think it’s a little risky to put time frames on guys.” Of course, the first step will be to complete a deal with the lefty, who must sign by July 18.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski acknowledged his team’s need for bullpen help to hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on the Inside Pitch show on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (via MLB.com’s Jason Beck). Dombrowski did note, however, that the team would be looking for more of a middle-relief type of arm than a late-inning option, as they’re comfortable with Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan in the eighth and ninth innings. Nathan has struggled to a 6.28 ERA this season and briefly looked to have turned a corner, fanning five in a pair of scoreless innings, but he’s allowed two runs in two innings since.
- In a mailbag piece with readers, James Schmel of MLive.com writes that he expects the Tigers to acquire some bullpen help this July and suggests Chad Qualls as an ideal candidate. He also opines that if the Rays end up designating Erik Bedard for assignment, the veteran lefty would make a logical addition to Detroit’s pitching staff. He also feels that Don Kelly is the most likely roster casualty when Andy Dirks is activated from the disabled list, as that would allow Detroit to keep both Dirks and the surprising J.D Martinez on the roster.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
Pitcher Scott Carroll had a strong big-league debut for the White Sox on Sunday, pitching 7 1/3 innings and allowing just two runs, one earned, against David Price and the Rays. It’s been a long journey to the Majors for Carroll, who is 29 and was a third-round pick of the Reds all the way back in 2007. He made it all the way to Triple-A before the Reds released him in 2012. The White Sox then scooped him up, but he got hurt while pitching in Venezuela after the season and needed Tommy John surgery. He got back to the mound just eight months later, pitching for Double-A Birmingham near the end of the 2013 minor-league season. He had pitched well in four starts for Triple-A Charlotte in 2014 before finally getting the call. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The Cubs have become baseball’s version of a prison, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. That’s hyperbole, obviously, but Wittenmyer does quote former Cubs pitcher Matt Garza on what advice he would give current Cub Jeff Samardzija: “All I can tell him is keep pitching; pitch your way out of it,” says Garza. “Keep your eyes focused, your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.” Samardzija is a likely summer trade candidate.
- For pitchers, drops in velocity are worrisome indeed, as Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan points out. Justin Masterson‘s velocity is significantly off this season for the Indians – his four-seamer is off about 3.6 MPH from last year. (Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies is at the other end of the spectrum, with a velocity increase of 1.81 MPH.) Masterson’s missing velocity may show why the Indians only offered him an extension in the three-year, $45MM range this spring.
Yankees minor-league pitcher Jose Campos had Tommy John surgery on Friday, CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler tweets. Campos, of course, arrived from the Mariners prior to the 2012 season with Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, a trade that seems to have been cursed for everyone involved. Pineda was recently suspended ten games for his pine tar incident, Montero is with Triple-A Tacoma after hitting .208/.264/.327 in 110 big-league plate appearances last season, and Noesi has been designated for assignment twice in the past month. Here are more notes from the American League.
- The Indians have been cautious with a new contract for Justin Masterson because his velocity was down in spring training, he can be inconsistent, and has imperfect mechanics, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. That’s why they balked when he asked for a three-year contract of around $53MM this offseason, preferring a deal of around $45MM instead, Pluto suggests.
- The Blue Jays have scheduled top prospect Marcus Stroman‘s next start for Triple-A Buffalo to coincide with that of big-league fifth starter Dustin McGowan, Shi Davidi of SportsNet.ca reports. That could indicate that the Jays might promote Stroman soon. Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook 2014 names Stroman the Jays’ second-best prospect (behind Aaron Sanchez) and praises the small righty’s fastball, slider and athleticism. BA ranked Stroman the 55th-best prospect in baseball before the season. He currently has a 2.18 ERA with 11.3 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 20 2/3 innings for Buffalo.
Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun is again dealing with a thumb injury that hampered his swing in 2013, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. Braun and the team's doctors thought the extended rest between his suspension and the offseason would heal his thumb. That was the case early in Spring Training, as he was pain-free, but as spring wore on, Braun began to again experience numbness in his right thumb. Because he cannot feel the thumb, he's unable to tell how tightly he is gripping the ball when throwing, leading to bruising and blisters on the digit. The root of the problem appears to be a damaged nerve, which can be corrected via surgery, but Braun says he doesn't want to think about that alternative now, as the recovery would not be quick.
More links pertaining to baseball's Central divisions as we gear up for a weekend of baseball early in the 2014 campaign…
- The Cubs are exploring the idea of selling minority ownership shares as a way to help finance the stadium renovation, multiple sources tell Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com. The team is looking at selling a non-controlling interest, though no official decision has been reached. The potential sale wouldn't impact president of business operations Crane Kenney or president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who are both locked into long-term contracts. While the deal may be perceived negatively by some, Mooney points out that the Giants and Cardinals list 30 principal owners while the Cardinals have 15 investors, and both are considered to be well-run franchises. Any sale would need to be approved by Major League Baseball, Mooney adds.
- Earlier today, the Indians signed second baseman Jason Kipnis to a six-year, $52.5MM extension. At the press conference, GM Chris Antonetti told reporters that there's no "either/or" situation with Kipnis and Justin Masterson (MLB.com's Jorda Bastian reporting on Twitter). The club still has the financial flexibility to make something happen with Masterson, should talks re-ignite. The similarity between Kipnis' guarantee and Masterson's reported three-year, $51MM proposal may have led to some speculation prior to Antonetti's comments.
- Bastian also tweets that the Indians have been trying to extend Kipnis since he had just 69 days of service time; in other words, Cleveland has been pursuing an extension for their second baseman since the completion of the 2011 season. Kipnis batted .272/.333/.507 with seven homers and five steals in 150 plate appearances in his big league debut that year. The deal was wrapped up on Sunday but not announced until today, he adds.
- Fangraphs' Jason Collette looks at how Yan Gomes went from being "the other guy" in the trade that netted the Indians Mike Aviles to becoming the recipient of a six-year, $23MM extension. Gomes was never afforded a chance to catch everyday in the Blue Jays' minor league system because of their depth at the position. Collette calls the contract the "inverse of all free agent deals" as it rewards Gomes for his future production rather than past laurels. He also wonders if the new rules regarding home-plate collisions made the extension more palatable, as there is now less long-term risk with catcher extensions.
TODAY, 7:33pm: For his part, GM Chris Antonetti says that he met with Masterson and all are in agreement "to table discussions on a multi-year contract and potentially revisit it down the road," reports MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. Antonetti says that he prefers not to hold discussions during the season, while Masterson says (via a tweet from Bastian) that he would be open to doing so.
Addressing the team's assessment of Masterson's market value, Antonetti said that the Bailey contract was just one data point. "We were very cognizant of that contract," he explained, "but there are others. I feel like we made an earnest attempt to get something done and offered Justin a contract that was fair relative to the market." Weighing heavily for Cleveland, though, was its future commitments and expected increases in arbitration payouts. "That's a consideration," said Antonetti. "I think the thing that we want, and I know Justin wants, is to be a part of a championship-caliber team. So what we need to do is look at how we fairly compensate players, but fit them within the constructs of what we expect our payrolls will be moving forward."
6:07pm: While acknowledging that talks had broken down, Masterson did not rule out the possibility of another attempt, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports on Twitter. "Although the doors are technically closed," said Masterson, "they all have doorknobs so you can open them again."
YESTERDAY, 9:41pm: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Indians countered with a two-year deal and a club option at a considerably lower annual salary — roughly $14MM (Twitter link).
9:30pm: Hoynes reports that Masterson and agent Randy Rowley offered a two-year and a three-year proposal, with the two-year offer coming in at roughly $35MM and the three-year offer coming in at roughly $51MM.
8:49pm: A long-term deal between the Indians and No. 1 starter Justin Masterson seemed highly likely to materialize when reports surfaced that Masterson had proposed a three-year extension to Cleveland. However, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that talks between the two sides have fallen through after Cleveland did not accept the three-year offer, which had an annual value under Homer Bailey's $17.5MM mark. Free agency now seems likely for Masterson, says Rosenthal (Twitter links). Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer hears the same, tweeting that talks between the two sides "are over."
Masterson is already under contract for the 2014 season after agreeing to a one-year, $9.7625MM contract to avoid arbitration this offseason. A three-year extension would have bought out the 2015-17 seasons — Masterson's age-30 through age-32 seasons. The three-year term is almost certainly lower than what Masterson can expect in free agency next offseason, even if he rejects a qualifying offer.
A three-year deal worth $51-53MM seems like a reasonable price to pay for Masterson, who has turned in an ERA south of 3.50 in two of the past three seasons and established himself as one of the best ground-ball pitchers in the game. Cleveland isn't a deep-pocketed club though, and they spent at an uncharacteristic level last offseason to sign Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to four-year commitments. It's unclear if that spending spree is related to the Masterson situation, though.
If Masterson does reach the open market next offseason, that's bad news for the likes of James Shields, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester (if Lester does not reach an extension of his own), as it would add another quality arm to the top of the free agent crop.
It has now been a full two weeks since Justin Masterson reportedly offered the Indians a three- or four-year, $40MM to $60MM extension. The club has yet to act on the offer, however, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
In fact, says Heyman, Masterson has made two separate proposals, both of which are still on the table and one of which is for only three years. Both offers include less guaranteed years at a slightly lower average annual value than the recent Homer Bailey extension. Bailey got six years and $105MM, earning approximately a $19MM AAV for the five free agent years covered. Masterson and the Indians have already agreed upon a $9.7625MM deal for 2014, so the new contract would cover 2015 and beyond.
Big-league ballplayers make plenty of money, but that doesn't mean free agency isn't stressful. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal takes a fascinating look at free agency as seen through the eyes of Red Sox players. Chris Capuano reports that, whenever he's a free agent, he sends his agent a list of teams in order of preference, but then has to wait to see if there's mutual interest. He also notes that, typically, playing for a winner becomes more and more important to a player the older he gets. David Ross says that, before the 2009 season, he signed to be a backup with the Braves rather than a starter with the Astros because the Braves offered a two-year deal.
Here are more notes from around the American League:
- Conflicting reports yesterday regarding Ervin Santana has everyone confused. "I really don’t know what’s real and what’s not real in that case," Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette told reporters, including Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com.
- The biggest culprit for Santana's situation is the right-hander's own camp, which dramatically overestimated his market and then was slow to change gears, ESPN's Buster Olney writes (Insider subscription required). Olney suggests that, if Santana's demands had been more realistic, he could have at least wound up with a contract similar to Matt Garza's or Ricky Nolasco's, rather than the one-year deal he now appears likely to receive.
- Back to the Orioles, Duquette still has the financial flexibility to improve the roster, but is confident in the pitching they currently have in camp, according to MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli. "We have some more resources that we can invest in our team, and we'll take a look at each case as it comes up," Duquette said. "We do have a little more pitching depth with our starting pitching going into the season, and some of the young pitchers we have high hopes for are continuing to develop their skills."
- GM Dave Dombrowski says the Tigers won't be trading any starting pitchers, including Rick Porcello, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. Earlier today, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that the Tigers would field offers for Porcello.
- Starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, has surprisingly suggested to the Indians that he might be willing to sign a shorter-term extension, perhaps three years, but the Indians have not yet responded with an offer, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets.
- The Rangers are trying to develop a long-term answer at catcher, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Texas hasn't had stability at catcher since Ivan Rodriguez left over a decade ago. "It’s a topic of conversation, absolutely," says GM Jon Daniels. "We’ve had some guys come over here as big-time catching prospects, but we haven’t developed our own long-term championship-caliber starter." The Rangers have beefed up their coaching staff in an attempt to help their catchers develop. The Rangers' best hope of becoming a homegrown regular catcher is, of course, top prospect Jorge Alfaro, who played most of the 2013 season with Class A Hickory.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
In his latest piece for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal wonders how the Indians could possibly say no to Justin Masterson's proposed extension. Rosenthal's sources tell him Masterson is seeking a three-year extension on top of his current deal at roughly market value in terms of average annual salary (Rosenthal speculates $17-18MM). Few Cleveland stars in any sport express a willingness to take a discount to stay, adds Rosenthal, and it would send a poor message to fans and the Indians' players to make the decision not to pay Masterson. Here are some more highlights from a jam-packed Rosenthal column…
- Outfielder Billy Burns might be the most intriguing player in Athletics camp, writes Rosenthal. Acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Jerry Blevins, Burns was attractive to the A's because he was one of just three players in all of minor league baseball with more than 50 stolen bases and an OBP north of .400 last season. Burns has swiped seven bags in eight Spring Training games thus far, and scouts have raved about his instincts as a leadoff man, says Rosenthal.
- Mike Olt has looked good thus far in camp with the Cubs, and the team's preference is for him to win the third base job out of Spring Training rather than head back to Triple-A. Doing so would allow the club to start Christian Villanueva at third in Triple-A and Kris Bryant at the hot corner in Double-A. Rosenthal points out that if Olt were to rebound from the concussion/vision issues that plagued him last season, the Cubs' haul for Matt Garza would look all the more impressive. Chicago also plucked C.J. Edwards from the Rangers, who enters the 2014 season ranked as the game's No. 26 prospect, per Baseball America.
- Brewers first baseman Juan Francisco could be squeezed out again and find himself on the move, writes Rosenthal. Francisco is out of options, and the Brew Crew could prefer to take Lyle Overbay as a potential pairing with Mark Reynolds due to Overbay's superior glove. Rosenthal speculates that the Tigers could be a good fit for Francisco, as they have just four players capable of hitting left-handed on their roster. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes ran down all of the NL Central's out-of-options players yesterday.
- It's been reported in recent days that the Royals and James Shields aren't likely to work out an extension, and sources tell Rosenthal the same thing. A Masterson extension would be a clear benefit to Shields, as Shields would have less competition on next year's open market. MLBTR recently examined what Shields might earn as a free agent next offseason.
Justin Masterson is only looking for a three- or four-year extension from the Indians, a short-term arrangement that speaks to comfort in Cleveland both on and off the field, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian writes. While Masterson said that contract talks are "a challenging situation, especially for me. [I'm] not doing this because we need to get the most money ever. We also think about others who may come behind us. There are a lot of different factors you try to work in. Are we being true to our value or are we skewing it?" Also, by staying with the Tribe, Masterson noted that he could further enhance the Indians' growing reputation as an attractive destination for people to play.
Here's some more from around the AL Central…
- A short-term deal may also have a strategic element to it, as MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince notes that a three-year deal would cover Masterson past the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. It's widely expected that the qualifying offer system will be modified (or even scrapped) in a new CBA, so Masterson could take the security of a short-term deal now and avoid having his market diminished as a free agent next winter if he has qualifying offer draft compensation attached to his services.
- Also from Castrovince, Masterson's love of playing for Terry Francona "is the only reason these extension conversations have had any traction."
- Twins assistant GM Rob Antony discussed his club's pursuit of Johan Santana with Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Minnesota only viewed Santana as a starting pitcher and would've been comfortable giving him a May 31 opt-out, Antony said, but the Twins simply weren't willing to sign Santana at the price he received from the Orioles. Santana will earn $3MM in base salary if he makes the Baltimore roster, plus potentially millions more in incentives.
- While Antony admitted that injuries could change the Twins' feelings about further additions, "right now I think what we’ve got in camp is what we’re working on.”
- Three months without the injured Andy Dirks as part of their left field platoon won't do much harm to the Tigers' playoff chances, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan writes. While Detroit is likely to replace Dirks with internal players, Sullivan notes that a more intriguing move would be to acquire an everyday outfielder who could then take over for Torii Hunter in 2015 and beyond.
- Jim Thome admits that he would "have to take that call" if another team contacted him about returning to the field, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports. Thome was hired as a special assistant to White Sox GM Rick Hahn last summer, though he never officially retired. While he would "always listen" about another playing opportunity, Thome enjoys his current position and has spoken of wanting to become a manager in the future.
9:18pm: The proposal made by Masterson to the Indians is believed to fall in the range of $40MM to $60MM over three to four years, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. Masterson is waiting to hear back from the Indians at present. The parties will plan to cut off negotiations on March 31st, but are willing to push into the season if talks are fruitful.
Needless to say, a deal in that range would represent a significant savings over the Bailey extension. Masterson is one year older than Bailey, but arguably has the better track record with four full campaigns under his belt.
6:21pm: Though he is looking ahead to a promising free agent market, Indians starter Justin Masterson is willing to consider a lesser deal (at least in terms of years) to stay in Cleveland, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. He could be willing to stay at the negotiating table even if the team would only guarantee three years, suggests Heyman.
Notably, Cleveland is reportedly interested in an extension of only three or four years. According to Heyman, the club has indicated to Masterson that it is not going to come near the six-year, $105MM guarantee given Homer Bailey by the Reds. (Of course, that deal includes Bailey's last arbitration year, making it really more of a five-year, $95MM extension.)
Agent Randy Rowley recently provided the Indians with a figure that he and his client would be comfortable with. Though the number is not known, the team reportedly feels somewhat optimistic about the possibility of reaching agreement. Indeed, Rowley told Heyman that his side is "trying to be sensitive to something that makes sense," though they "can't be … a sellout." The soon-to-be-29-year-old Masterson has strong reasons for preferring to play in Cleveland, says his agent, and is comfortable with the idea of having a chance at free agency in his early thirties. Nevertheless, Rowley cautions, "the burden's on them" (i.e., the Indians) with free agency only "nine months away."
Also of note is the fact that, according to Heyman, the Indians have made clear to Masterson that his market value will likely take some hit due to the impact of a prospective qualifying offer. Rowley said he did not fear that possibility. "If you're one or two at your position among free agents, or even three," he said, "it won't have that much impact. I would wager a bet every team will need pitching." Of course, even if the potential value of a lost draft pick does not represent a huge portion of Masterson's expected open-market value at present, he carries the risk that its relative importance (and relative deterrent effect) will increase if he suffers injury or performance decline.