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Justin Masterson Rumors
The Braves, Cubs, Giants, Red Sox, Royals and Twins are six of the teams thought to have asked for Justin Masterson’s medicals or otherwise checked in on the right-hander, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter links). Though Masterson is coming off an injury-plagued season, he is drawing significant interest and could find a two-year deal on the open market. The Indians, Masterson’s former club, are also reportedly in the mix for the 29-year-old.
It’s no surprise that Masterson is generating this much free agent buzz, as the righty averaged 199 IP from 2010-13 and was one of the game’s best starters during the 2013 season. As MLBTR’s Zach Links noted in his Free Agent Profile of Masterson, a team could be in for a major bargain if the righty regains his old form. Whether he signs for one year or two, Masterson seems destined for a short-term deal as he’s banking on that return to form and the opportunity to set himself up for a more expensive multiyear deal next winter or after the 2016 season.
The six teams Crasnick lists present an interesting array of suitors, incorporating the two pennant winners, three teams looking to return to contention in 2015 and the rebuilding Twins, who can offer Masterson a pitcher-friendly ballpark to help rebuild his value. Team defense is also undoubtedly a big factor for Masterson, an extreme ground ball pitcher with a 56.6% career grounder rate.
The latest from the AL Central..
- Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (on Twitter) hears that the Twins have inquired about free agent starter Justin Masterson. Minnesota is also checking in on free agent outfielders, but finding a starter or two is at the top of their wish list. In my October profile of the 29-year-old (30 by Opening Day), I speculated that the Twins could be a possible match for Masterson.
- The White Sox are scouring the market for left-handed relief pitching, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). The White Sox currently only have two lefty relievers on their roster in Eric Surkamp and Scott Snodgress.
- Indians GM Chris Antonetti told Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (on Twitter) that while the club has made a lot of progress on the trade front, it’s tough to say if they are close to a deal.
The Indians are kicking the tires on a familiar name, as Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports they’ve reached out to Justin Masterson about a potential return. The Indians are likely interested in Masterson only on a one-year deal, which, as Hoynes notes, may be the preferred option for Masterson anyway. Masterson pitched through a number of injuries last season, and if he’s healthy in 2015, he could be a prime rebound candidate and position himself for a much nicer deal on the open market in 2015-16.
More from Hoynes and more from the AL Central…
- Hoynes also refutes previous reports that the Indians would have some interest in buying low on Ubaldo Jimenez. Though Jimenez had one of his best seasons in Cleveland under pitching coach Mickey Callaway, the organization isn’t interested in trying to fix the inconsistent righty.
- Both Aaron Crow and Tim Collins are non-tender candidates for the Royals, but Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports (via Twitter) that the team is still considering tendering each a contract due to a lack of MLB-ready replacement options.
- In his latest Twins Inbox, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports that the Twins began their search for a pitching coach with at least 30 names and seem likely to go outside the organization to fill the role. He also discusses potential free agent targets for the Twins, noting that the team is expected to pursue second-tier starting pitcher options such as Brandon McCarthy and Jason Hammel or bounceback candidates such as Masterson and Brett Anderson. Bollinger also expects the Twins to sign a corner outfielder, though he notes Torii Hunter‘s desire to play for a contender basically rules out a return to Minnesota.
9:21pm: The Nationals and Cubs have not exchanged names and a deal is unlikely, tweets Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune.
8:04pm: The Cubs are engaged with discussions with the Nationals to acquire right-handed starter Jordan Zimmermann, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Talks are serious enough that the sides have exchanged names that would be involved, with at least one top young middle infielder likely to be part of the package.
Importantly, per Wittenmyer, Chicago would want to be able to ink Zimmermann to an extension in order to pull the trigger. The Relativity Baseball client is set to hit the open market after this season. He’ll earn $16.5MM in his final year of arb eligibility, after agreeing to a back-loaded two year deal to avoid arbitration last year.
Zimmermann reportedly rejected a five-year, $85MM contract proposal from the Nats last year, and his value has only risen. Zimmermann, 28, threw to a 2.66 ERA over 199 2/3 frames in 2014, striking out 8.2 and walking a league-low 1.3 batters per nine. And that campaign brought him one year closer to free agency, reducing his risk and increasing his leverage in talks.
Zimmermann is, of course, not the only pitching option being pursued by Chicago. Wittenmyer says that Jon Lester is still a possibility, and the club is also chasing the kind of high-upside, high-risk arms it has in the past. Justin Masterson is one of those, per Wittenmyer, who says the righty could be amenable to a low-cost, one-year deal to rebuild his value. Per Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter), the team has had talks with Masterson, though nothing is close. Lefty Brett Anderson is another possibility, according to the Sun-Times report.
From the Nationals’ perspective, there is obvious appeal in the Cubs’ bevy of interesting, controllable middle infielders. Washington has an opening at second and has said it is interested in acquiring a shortstop option both for depth purposes and to provide an alternative to Ian Desmond, if he cannot be extended. Wittenmyer says the team feels comfortable with its staff even without Zimmermann, though I expect a free agent addition would be forthcoming if an arm is dealt.
While it is far too soon to speculate as to the pieces that might be included in a trade, the Cubs have several possible candidates that could be dangled. Starting shortstop Starlin Castro is signed to an attractive, yet pricey contract. And then there are heralded youngsters Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Addison Russell.
Could Jon Lester end up back with the Red Sox after all? “A well-connected baseball executive who has had conversations on the subject with the Red Sox” predicted to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes that Lester would indeed re-sign with his old team. The exec thought the Sox could be willing to relax their policy against signing pitchers in their 30’s to long-term contracts by offering Lester a six-year deal worth at least $20MM per season. Unless Lester is still willing to give the Sox a bit of a discount, I would think it’ll take a lot more than six years/$120MM to outbid the field for Lester’s services — MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted Lester would receive, at minimum, a six-year, $147MM contract this winter. If the Red Sox were willing to give Lester a six/$120MM deal, I would think they would’ve just offered him that deal in extension talks last winter and avoided this entire situation.
Here’s some more from Fenway Park….
- The Red Sox have made calls about right-hander Justin Masterson and reliever Luke Gregerson, Edes reports in a separate item.
- Hanley Ramirez‘s apparent willingness to play third base or even left field has gotten him on the Red Sox radar, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman linked Ramirez to the Sox a few days ago, though both he and Rosenthal note that Pablo Sandoval is Boston’s first choice to play third base.
- The Red Sox haven’t yet called about Ervin Santana but they spent “the whole year” scouting him, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal tweets.
- Even before the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer, New York still didn’t have any interest in trading for Yoenis Cespedes, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports.
Though there’s been speculation that Royals GM Dayton Moore could be a possibility to take over the GM slot in Atlanta following Frank Wren’s dismissal, Royals owner David Glass told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that Moore is “absolutely” staying with the Royals. Moore’s contract runs through 2016, but as Heyman and others have noted, it’d seem odd to leave town after getting the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years. Glass had nothing but praise for Moore: “He’s done a great job. He’s as good as it gets as far as a general manager.”
More news from baseball’s Central divisions…
- MLB.com’s Jim Callis breaks down how the Royals constructed their World Series roster, noting that the club has 14 homegrown players (draft or international signing), nine acquired via waivers or trade and only two signed via free agency (Omar Infante and Jason Vargas). One could make the case that Jeremy Guthrie also belongs in the free agent category, as he technically hit the open market for a couple of weeks between the end of the 2012 season and re-signing in Kansas City. However, the most intriguing part of Callis’ piece, for MLBTR readers, may be a comment from Moore on the importance of Jake Odorizzi‘s role in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade: “…he also kept Yordano Ventura out of that deal at that time.”
- MLive.com’s Chris Iott makes five predictions about the upcoming Tigers offseason in his latest piece, prognosticating that Detroit will not make a serious run at re-signing Max Scherzer, nor will it spend lavishly on its bullpen, perhaps adding one mid-range option at best. As he notes, the combined $17MM owed to Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria is already more than the $15.4MM the club spent on last year’s entire Opening Day bullpen. Iott does, however, foresee a re-signing of Victor Martinez. For his last two predictions, he expects an internal competition for the fifth starter slot and that one (or both) or Andy Dirks and Don Kelly will be non-tendered, based on recent comments from GM Dave Dombrowski. Bottom line: he expects Detroit to spend on retaining Martinez and acquiring a center fielder rather than on the bullpen or rotation.
- The Cardinals aren’t likely to re-sign any of their five free agents, writes MLB.com’s Jen Langosch. That means that Justin Masterson, A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Ellis and perhaps most notably, lifetime Cardinal Jason Motte and the resurgent Pat Neshek are ticketed for new jerseys. Neshek is probably the most intriguing of the bunch, as the 34-year-old signed a minor league deal last offseason but earned an All-Star nod en route to a final ERA of 1.87 in 67 1/3 innings with 9.1 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9.
In 2013, Justin Masterson turned in a career season for the Indians as he pitched to a 3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, earning an All-Star Game nod and piquing the attention of baseball people everywhere. No one knew where he would wind up after the 2014 season, but everyone agreed that he was in line for a massive contract. Masterson might not get the same long-term haul he once envisioned thanks to a lackluster 2014, but he still figures to get paid this winter.
Everything came together for Masterson in 2013. His power sinker was clicking, he was striking batters out at a career-high rate, and his 3.33 xFIP indicated that he was just flat out good, not lucky. With an aggressive approach on the mound and a 58.5 percent ground-ball rate, Masterson truly realized his potential with the Tribe.
Of course, the main difference between the 2013 and 2014 versions of Masterson was health. Fortunately, he’s on the mend from his injuries and should be 100% on all fronts by the start of Spring Training. While others in his position – banged up in a contract year – might have chosen to rest up, Masterson mostly pitched through the pain. At 29, Masterson is younger than most of the quality pitchers available on the open market. And, thanks to the midseason trade that sent him to St. Louis, Masterson can’t be hit with the qualifying offer and won’t have draft pick compensation tied to him.
His 2014 numbers – a 5.88 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 – aren’t so hot, but the fact that he managed to make 25 starts and 3 relief appearances despite it all is pretty impressive. The righty logged four straight seasons of at least 180 innings for Cleveland and while his ERA yo-yoed – 4.70 in 2010, 3.21 in 2011, 4.93 in 2012, and 3.45 in 2013 – he was solid on the whole and his 11.7 fWAR in that stretch placed him among the top thirty starters in the game. Masterson also hasn’t had a ground ball percentage lower than 55.1% in the last five years and he’s been around 58% over the last two seasons.
GMs will ask their team doctors to do a thorough check on Masterson before putting pen to paper, but they probably won’t fret about the right-hander resting on his laurels and counting his money. It’s also worth mentioning that the 29-year-old’s xFIP (4.06) and SIERA (4.03) were far kinder to him this year than ERA and his 8.1 K/9 is actually stronger than the average of his previous four seasons. Given time to heal up and iron out the kinks in his delivery, Masterson could get back to his old self rather quickly.
His troublesome right knee, which plagued him for a good chunk of the season, is partially to blame for the down year. That problem seems to be in the rear view mirror but shoulder impingement and a nagging left oblique injury have held him back and adversely altered his mechanics. He’s expected to fully recover from all of those injuries with some rest, but teams will certainly be wary and especially thorough in their examinations. Clubs will want to be sure that they’re more likely to get the 2010-2013 version of Masterson than the 2014 version.
During Masterson’s 2010-2013 run, his fastball had an average velocity of about 92.9 MPH. This season, Masterson threw his heater at a decidedly less warm 90.3 MPH. Faulty mechanics brought on by injury are believed to be culprit for the drop, but teams will still view the decreased velocity as a concern.
Masterson’s struggles landed him in the Cardinals’ bullpen to finish out the regular season and that’s obviously not how St. Louis saw things shaking out when they traded for him at the deadline. The hurler was viewed as a top-of-the-rotation piece just a year ago and he will wind up with relief appearances as the most recent work on his resume. Masterson actually did well in his grand total of 3 and 1/3 innings of bullpen work, but he’s obviously looking to join someone’s starting five next season.
Earlier this year, Justin and his wife Meryl welcomed twins to the world, a boy and a girl, making their three-year-old daughter a big sister. Justin, the son of a pastor, spends much of his downtime aiding in humanitarian causes both here and abroad with Meryl. This offseason, he’ll be heading to Uganda and Kenya on a mission trip to help with water projects and to build orphanages for needy children. The Mastersons founded a non-profit organization (the Fortress Foundation) in 2013 to help extremely impoverished people from all around the world. In Cleveland, they volunteered and donated to Laura’s Home, a local battered women’s shelter. It’s no surprise that the Indians made Justin a repeat nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.
In the clubhouse, Masterson is known a supportive teammate and someone who is always willing to help out the younger pitchers. At 29, Masterson is still young, but he also has lots of valuable experience to draw from.
If the medicals check out, a team could very well come away with one of the best pitching bargains of the winter. Back in January, when Masterson was coming off of his career year, Tim Dierkes pegged his extension value around $65-$85MM over a five year stretch. Like any free agent, the 6’6″ hurler has his question marks, but he could be a very solid value after an offseason of rest.
Last last month, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com wondered aloud if Masterson could be a fit for the Cubs. His history with former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president Theo Epstein could lead to a union and, as Mooney notes, coach Chris Bosio has a track record for taking his pitchers to the next level. Speaking of the Red Sox, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote back in August that Boston will have interest in Masterson in the offseason.
Outside of those old friends, teams in bigger parks with pitching needs like the Twins, Angels, Marlins, and Braves might be in the mix for Masterson.
Because Masterson’s four consecutive strong years were followed by a spotty walk year, it’s hard to gauge what kind of contract he’ll net this winter. A one-year deal to reassert himself as a top starter could put him in line for a substantial long-term deal. At the same time, it’s not hard to envision a team coming to the table with a multi-year offer to Masterson’s liking.
If Masterson opts for a one-year deal in order to restore his value and go for a monster contract after the 2015 season, a one-year, $12MM contract could make sense.
Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The firing of Astros manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley was a clash of old-school baseball versus the new-school of analytics and old-school lost, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. For that reason, Cafardo opines GM Jeff Luhnow’s next hires will need to be data savvy, know their way around a laptop, put numbers ahead of traditional baseball, and accept daily interference. Trembley, who found out he was fired from the ESPN news ticker, wasn’t surprised by the dismissals because there was a disconnect with the front office from “the computer leaks to the draft and the Mark Appel situation where the manager wasn’t told (top prospect) Appel was coming up to throw. I think (owner) Jim Crane nailed it when he said that there was a personality clash and sometimes people just don’t get along.“
In other items from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:
- There is a financial component to placing Yu Darvish on the disabled list. The Rangers can deduct $5,228.75 per day in bonuses over 30 days on the DL and, since the right-hander has been moved to the 60-day disabled list, the savings realized will be nearly $136k on Darvish’s $800K roster bonus.
- Justin Verlander‘s struggles this year should give teams pause about giving large contracts to older pitchers. Cafardo, however, doesn’t see this cautionary tale dampening the market for Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields because there are franchises which cannot resist the temptation and feel it’s the cost of doing business.
- Cafardo views the Red Sox as players for the services of free agents Jason Grilli and Justin Masterson this offseason.
- There is some debate within the Brewers organization about exercising Yovani Gallardo‘s $13MM option for 2015 with some feeling the money might be better spent elsewhere.
- Expect the Rangers to engage the Blue Jays in trade talks for Jose Bautista, but Cafardo notes Texas may not have the pitching prospects to pry the All-Star slugger away from Toronto.
- Joel Hanrahan, who suffered a setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, will not need another operation and will attempt to continue his comeback in 2015. Hanrahan had signed a $1MM deal with the Tigers in May, but never pitched an inning for the organization.
- Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang will be posted this winter and should be in line for a substantial contract given the lack of available impact power hitters. The 27-year-old, who measures six feet and 180 pounds, hit 38 home runs and drove home 107 runs in 107 games for Nexen of the KBO. Cafardo notes the Cardinals have shown interest in Kang previously, but a few more teams (not named by Cafardo) are now in the mix.
In the latest edition of his Sunday column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the early struggles of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have left many around the game wondering how good each player truly is. Bogaerts’ youth makes his scuffles more understandable, but one NL adviser said that Bradley has fallen from a prospect that would be the centerpiece of a trade to a “throw-in.” The 24-year-old is a standout defender, but he’s hit just .208/.284/.303 in 470 big league plate appearances and has shown “absolutely no sign of the hitting getting better,” said the adviser. Boston will commit to Bogaerts for next year regardless of his finish, writes Cafardo, but he concludes that Bradley will have to show improvement over the final seven weeks in order to handed the center field job in 2015.
More from his column…
- In 30 years covering baseball, Cafardo says he cannot recall an instance of a team scouting another club as much as the Phillies scouted the Red Sox without pulling the trigger on a trade. The Phillies have continued to send scouts to all three of Boston’s post-deadline series, and Cafardo wonders if the team could be preparing for offseason negotiations regarding Cole Hamels. He hears that the Sox, Rangers, Angels, Dodgers and Cubs will be the big players for Hamels this winter.
- The Red Sox will have interest in bringing back right-hander Justin Masterson back to the organization as a free agent this winter.
- James Shields will be one of the most sought-after free agents on this year’s market, and while his age presents risk, one AL GM tells Cafardo that being older than Jon Lester and Max Scherzer actually has some appeal: “He’s thrown a lot of innings and pitched a lot of games and there’s always the possibility of breakdown, but the fact you might be able to get him at a shorter term reduces that big risk.”
- “The Phillies are just unreasonable in their demands,” an AL official said when discussing the trade market for Jonathan Papelbon. Still, that official feels that Papelbon will indeed be traded in August, though it may not happen until the end of the month when the Phillies will be forced to “get a bit more realistic.”
- The Red Sox want to retain Koji Uehara, but they don’t want to go as high as the approximately $15MM qualifying offer. It appears that Uehara wants to return, though Cafardo notes that the Orioles could be a factor, as the closer’s family makes its home in the Baltimore area.
- The Mariners‘ Chris Young just picked up his 10th win, but he tells Cafardo that the statistic doesn’t mean much to him these days. “Earlier in my career, I think it’s something I’d get excited about,” he said. “But at this point in my career, I know that wins are so far beyond a pitcher’s control. One day, the media will stop evaluating us on that.”
The Cardinals have bolstered their starting rotation depth by acquiring Justin Masterson from the Indians in exchange for top outfield prospect James Ramsey. Both teams have officially announced the deal. Right-hander Michael Wacha has been moved to the 60-day DL to make room on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster.
Masterson, 29, is currently on the disabled list (he’s set to be activated this weekend) and in the midst of a down season as he heads into free agency. He’s earning $9.7625MM this season, of which roughly $3.3MM remains.
Masterson looked the part of a top-of-the-rotation starter in 2013, posting a 3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 58.5 percent ground-ball rate in 193 innings. He’s battled a knee issue for most of this season, which could very likely have contributed to his 5.51 ERA and bloated walk rate (5.1 BB/9).
Masterson’s fastball velocity has declined significantly this season, falling from an average of 91.6 mph in 2013 to 89.1 in 2014. However, Masterson’s now former pitching coach Mickey Callaway said earlier in the month that he felt Masterson’s knee injury had altered his mechanics, which could explain the dip in velocity as well as the increase in walks.
The Cardinals have been on the lookout for rotation help for weeks now, having also been connected to Jake Peavy as well as aces David Price and Jon Lester. Masterson comes with upside, to be sure; FIP, xFIP and SIERA all feel his skill-set should have resulted in an ERA in the low 4.00s this season, and he’s had a good deal of past success. However, his injury and ineffective results will leave some Cardinals fans wondering if he’s truly an upgrade over internal options.
That remains to be seen, but the Cardinals felt that Masterson could bolster their starting pitching in light of Michael Wacha‘s injury and the struggles of Shelby Miller. While Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn are reliable arms atop the rotation, Joe Kelly has been injured for most of the season, and Carlos Martinez would shatter last season’s innings total were he to remain in the rotation over the final two months (to say nothing of the postseason).
As for the Indians, they’ll receive Ramsey, a 2012 first-round pick that ranked seventh among Cardinals prospects on Baseball America’s midseason list and ranked sixth according to Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. The 24-year-old is hitting .300/.389/.527 with 13 homers in 281 Double-A plate appearances this season. Callis and Mayo note that Ramsey has the speed to play center field (though he’s not a huge threat on the bases) and the arm to play right field if a change is needed. He draws a fair amount of walks and has shown more power than some anticipated coming out of college, the MLB.com duo adds.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.