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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.
Here are a couple of bullets relating to the American League Central:
- Consensus top-five overall prospect Miguel Sano of the Twins is headed for an MRI after suffering an injury to his throwing elbow. His agent, Rob Plummer, tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he fears the worst — a torn UCL — although he makes clear that nothing is yet known for certain. Rehab is always an option, though club and player had already considered Tommy John surgery after Sano strained the ligament over the winter. The health of Sano's elbow could have quite a significant impact on his future value, not just due to possible delays in his development, but because some already believe he will not be able to man the hot corner at the MLB level.
- Though Justin Masterson said yesterday that he thinks he'll ultimately reach agreement to extend his stay with the Indians, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com says that may be hard to reach in reality. A GM told Gammons that the two top starters most likely to be truly available on the open market are Masterson and James Shields. Looking ahead to the potential payday he could land, suggests Gammons, Masterson may be forced to choose between playing in Cleveland and earning market value.
- The GM that Gammons spoke thought it likely that Max Scherzer would stay with the Tigers. But while the club has reached massive extensions with superstars like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, negotiating a new pact with Scherzer will be most difficult of all, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. In large part, says Heyman, that fact is driven not only by Scherzer's skyrocketing value, but also his own "cool business stance" towards his next new deal. Detroit has played its part by agreeing to a record arbitration raise with Scherzer and clearing space for a new deal through several big offseason deals. But Heyman says that the reigning AL Cy Young winner has his sights set on matching — or even exceeding — the kinds of guarantees achieved by Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander in recent years.
Earlier today, Justin Masterson told reporters that he believes that "somehow, some way" he'll be in Cleveland for a few more years after this one. That statement can serve as a beacon of optimism for Masterson/Indians fans, but there have been plenty of instances of a player going on record to say he thinks he will/wants to/hopes to stay with a team, only to sign elsewhere in the future.
Masterson isn't likely to give the Indians a hefty discount with just seven to eight months sitting between him and free agency, and the price for extending players has seemed to trend upward recently. Masterson is one year older than fellow right-hander Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105MM extension with a comparable amount of service time. The similarities don't stop there, either. As that comparison shows, fWAR assigns Masterson the higher value due to his higher innings total, but in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP, the two have accumulate very, very similar results over the past three seasons. Masterson relies more on ground-balls, while Bailey's leaned more heavily on superior command and a few more whiffs.
Regardless, Bailey signed away five free agent seasons for roughly $95MM. That figure, as noted by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an updated piece on Masterson's comments, simply isn't going to be on the table from the Indians.
Masterson currently faces a decision: he's experienced his ups and downs in recent seasons (2010 and 2012 were not pretty), but he's a talented pitcher in the midst of his prime who is months away from being one of the best pitchers on the free agent market alongside James Shields, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester (Lester, of course, is widely expected to sign an extension this spring). Another strong season would give Masterson three years of an ERA well under 4.00 with 193-plus innings and one of the league's best ground-ball rates. However, his comments today also hinted that he'd like to stay in Cleveland, and an extension would eliminate the risk of a poor season or injury sapping his potential earnings.
It would be beneficial to the Indians' long-term outlook to keep Masterson around and pair him with the likes of Danny Salazar for years to come, but the team could also look to fill the void internally (or with cheaper free agent/trade options) and recoup a draft pick via qualifying offer next offseason in letting Masterson walk.
4:04pm: Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians' most recent offer to Masterson is believed to have been in the three- or four-year range. While that's significant lower than Bailey's six-year deal, also keep in mind that with Masterson's 2014 salary already agreed upon, each of those proposed years is a free agent year, while Bailey's deal sold off five free agent seasons.
3:41pm: Justin Masterson and the Indians agreed to a one-year, $9.7625MM contract last week to avoid an arbitration hearing at the eleventh hour. Extension talks have continued since that time, and while nothing is imminent, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, Masterson told reporters that he doesn't think this will be his final year in Cleveland (All Twitter links): "I figure that somehow, some way, I'll end up still being here for a few more years," said Masterson. Bastian adds that the two sides spoke earlier this week and plan to do so again over the weekend and in the early portion of next week. MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo writes that the two sides recently exchanged parameters.
Masterson has said in the past that he's willing to continue extension talks into the season, but GM Chris Antonetti is said to prefer a resolution by the end of Spring Training. Masterson compares somewhat favorably to Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (particularly in terms of age and service time), who signed a six-year, $105MM extension last week, though Bailey had the advantage of coming off his two best seasons. Masterson enjoyed his two strongest campaigns in 2011 and 2013 campaign but struggled in 2012.