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Justin Masterson Rumors
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.
Homer Bailey and the Reds were said earlier today to be close to a new deal, but nothing had materialized as of this evening. In the latest update, MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports that details are still being worked out. GM Walt Jocketty echoed his star hurler's comments, saying that progress had been made. "There are still some outstanding issues," said Jocketty. "Hopefully they get resolved in the next 24 hours or else people are going to have to suit it up and go east." Jocketty was referring, of course, to donning not baseball uniforms but rather the business attire necessary for an arbitration hearing. "It's a lot of little things," Jocketty continued. "The structure of the contract, how it's paid and things like that."
Here's a look at some other potential extension situations shaping up around baseball …
- Though the threat of an arbitration hearing has been avoided between Justin Masterson and the Indians, those parties could be operating on something of a deadline of their own. Masterson, a comparable pitcher to Bailey in many ways, is also entering his final season of arb-eligibility before hitting the open market. Though Masterson has said he'd be willing to continue discussions into the season, club GM Chris Antonetti says that he would rather keep talks to the spring, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
- Another power pitcher, Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs, currently stands to qualify for free agency after 2015. As ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers reported today, team president Theo Epstein still hopes a deal can be worked out. On the other hand, his comments echoed some of the sentiment recently expressed by Samardzija, who indicated that the sides had reached something of a stalemate in negotiations. "Sometimes there is going to be a natural gap where a player values himself for what he can do and the team has to factor in a little bit more what he has done," Epstein explained. "It doesn't mean we're tremendously far apart, but if you are apart you kind of table it for another day and we'll see what happens."
- The Brewers previously explored extension talks with young shortstop Jean Segura, but those discussions did not lead anywhere. The club remains interested, but as MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports, nothing has occurred in the interim. "We're always open to [extension talks]," said GM Doug Melvin. "We've locked up some, some we didn't. We didn't get Prince [Fielder]. We offered him a deal earlier on to buy into free agency, but it just depends what players want. Not a lot of them want long-term deals that will take away free agency, and we like to get deals that have at least a year of free agency if we can."
- Another promising young shortstop, the Braves' Andrelton Simmons, has watched as three youthful teammates inked long-term deals in recent deays. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (link behind paywall), Simmons is keeping his eye on the field but would be interested in a new contract. "I'm just focused on playing," said Simmons. "If it happens, great. I love Atlanta. So hopefully something gets done. But you never know." As O'Brien points out, uncertainty remains in Simmons' arbitration value. Not only does it remain unclear whether he will qualify as a Super Two (he has 1.125 years of service time), but his immense defensive value may not translate into commensurate arbitration earnings. Of course, another defense-first shortstop — Elvis Andrus of the Rangers — was able to ink a shorter-term, early-career deal (at three years of service) and then land another, much greater extension just a year later.
- The Giants have at least two worthy extension candidates. The first and more pressing, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, is entering his final season before hitting the open market at age 28. But the sides are currently not engaged in talks, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. Cotillo notes that today's physical could have a bearing on how things play out. Sandoval, who at times has seen his conditioning questioned, has made some waves by slimming down entering camp this year.
- A different sort of urgency is shaping up with regard to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, who is scheduled for an arbitration hearing bright and early tomorrow. As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, though discussions are presently focused on Belt's 2014 salary (the sides stand far apart at $3.6MM and $2.05MM), GM Brian Sabean says he remains interested in exploring a longer-term deal. "We like the player," said Sabean. "We think he's one of the up-and-coming players in the National League and we want to hold onto him. But first things first." What Sabean seems to mean is that Belt's future earning capacity through arbitration is very much tied to the divergent filing figures submitted by each side.
- Indeed, Belt would stand at the same starting point as fellow Super Two first baseman Eric Hosmer (who agreed to a $3.6MM price with the Royals) if he wins his hearing. That would set both players on a potentially higher arbitration trajectory than that of another young first bagger, Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, who just inked a monster extension to avoid arbitration in his first of just three seasons of eligibility. Freeman had filed at $5.75MM, with the Braves countering at $4.5MM; both Belt and Hosmer could easily land in that realm with another big year. As I recently explained in discussing the impact of the Freeman deal, Belt and Hosmer could potentially look to Freeman's eight-year, $135MM contract as a target — though it remains to be seen, of course, whether their employers would go to that level.
1:32pm: Masterson receives a $9.7625MM salary, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, placing him slightly below the midpoint between his figure and the club's figure.
Masterson, who turns 29 in a month, is the last of the Indians' arbitration eligible players to resolve his case. The team went to hearings with right-handers Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin (their first hearings since 1991), with Cleveland winning both cases.
Masterson told Bastian within the past hour that he and the Indians were "really close" on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. The right-hander posted a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings with 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 58 percent ground-ball rate that led all qualified big league starters. He filed for an $11.8MM salary while the Indians filed at $8.05MM, as can be seen in MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker. This will be his final year of team control before he is eligible for free agency.
The Indians and Justin Masterson are making progress on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, the right-hander told reporters, including MLB.com's Jordan Bastian (Twitter link). Masterson said that the two sides are "really close" to an agreement, and he's hopeful that he won't need to catch a flight to attend his arbitration hearing.
Masterson, Homer Bailey and Brandon Belt are the only remaining players whose arbitration cases have not been solved. Bailey is said to be nearing a six-year, $100MM deal with Cincinnati, but Masterson and the Indians don't sind like they'll be striking such a pact. The soon-to-be 29-year-old posted a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings with 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 58 percent ground-ball rate that led all qualified big league starters. He filed for an $11.8MM salary while the Indians filed at $8.05MM, as can be seen in MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker.