How walking away from Masterson could be reasonable
Cleveland's perspective not that outlandish, though the best-case is still getting a deal done
So how on Earth could Cleveland not finish negotiations with current #1 starter Justin Masterson and keep him long-term?
That is the question on everyone's mind this morning after news broke Thursday night that extension talks between Masterson and the team are over. The typical ranting and raving over the cheap Dolans and the stupid front office and other typical complaints followed.
But what if Cleveland is making a reasonable decision?
First, let's go over what we know (it is also important to note that each of these offers would be tacked on top of Masterson's $9.7 million contract he already signed for 2014).
Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer reported Thursday night that Masterson's side offered a two-year contract for $35 million and a three-year contract for roughly $51 million. Both of these come out to about $17 million per season.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that Cleveland's counter was a two-year deal with a club option. That offer carried around a $14 million per season salary.
On one hand, the difference between Masterson's two-year, $35 million contract and Cleveland's two-year, $28 million contract does not seem like much; split the difference, call it two years, $31.5 million, and sign on the dotted line. But in reality, these contracts are much farther apart.
The fact that Masterson would even offer a two-year extension seems crazy considering the sum Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey just signed for. After an offseason where Bailey and Masterson were lumped together as similar pitchers approaching free agency following 2014, Bailey signed a six-year, $105 million contract (one of those years is 2014, so for comparing to these Masterson extension figures, Bailey signed a five-year, $96 million contract). That contract seemed to put Masterson out of Cleveland's price range, at least until his agents proposed a shorter, cheaper extension during spring training.
When comparing Masterson and Bailey, it is clear that both do not have the longest track records of success, yet both have performed at a high level recently.
- Masterson (2013): 3.45 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 3.33 xFIP, 9.09 SO/9, 3.54 BB/9, 3.4 fWAR in 193.0 IP
- Bailey (2013): 3.49 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.34 xFIP, 8.57 SO/9, 2.33 BB/9, 3.7 fWAR in 209.0 IP
- Masterson (career): 4.03 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, 7.45 SO/9, 3.57 BB/9, 14.1 fWAR in 1013.0 IP
- Bailey (career): 4.25 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 3.95 xFIP, 7.44 SO/9, 2.91 BB/9, 10.5 fWAR in 853.0 IP
Masterson is slightly better for his career, but Bailey has youth on his side (Bailey turns 28 years old in May while Masterson turns 29 years old on Saturday). Overall the difference is essentially negligible, putting Masterson in line for at least a similar contract to the one Bailey signed.
Dave Cameron at Fangraphs had the same question as everyone: if Masterson is willing to take so much less than the Bailey extension, how could Cleveland not pounce?
His take? Cincinnati just overpaid for Bailey, skewing our perceptions of the market.
According to Cameron's analysis, Masterson was offering Cleveland a fair market deal, not some kind of massive bargain; just because Cincinnati broke the market for Bailey does not mean Cleveland must do the same.
Regarding Masterson, Cameron writes
"Even if Masterson simply agreed to sign for 3/$45M with no option, it’s not clear that this is a large enough discount for a mid-revenue team like the Indians to take the risk of doing the deal a year ahead of time. After all, the Indians aren’t a team that can afford to buy a ton of market priced wins, and so to take on the risk of his 2014 health and performance, they should get a real discount over what Masterson would be expected to get as a free agent."
Basically, Masterson's side offered a contract that is close to what is considered market value in the aftermath of Bailey's big payday. Considering Masterson is a union rep and has the responsibility not only to himself with his contract but to future players, it should come as no surprise that the right-hander was not offering some gigantic bargain for the team.
But with Bailey diving into a pool of money in mind, the deal looked like a hometown discount and something Cleveland should jump at.
Now, even at two years, $35 million -- or something around that range -- I do think a deal could be worth doing. It is an expensive sum, but on a shorter-term deal, it has the potential to be worth it for Cleveland. It is a little surprising the two sides cannot find some sort of middle ground when they are (a) relatively close and (b) in agreement that the Bailey contract is not a real goal.
But the way information came out about Masterson's "benevolence" with the offer, Cleveland was quickly painted into a corner. Take the non-bargain deal and have a 15-20 percent chunk of the payroll tied up with Masterson or turn down the deal and face another round of criticism for being "cheap." This quickly turned into a no-win situation for Cleveland.
Did frustration at Masterson's camp for putting them in this position influence the negotiations? I have no inside information, but it is not much of a leap to see some friction there.
Maybe by publicly breaking off talks the two sides can negotiate out of the limelight and come to some agreement.
Maybe Cleveland has long-term concerns about Masterson and just wants to be done with the right-hander after 2014 no matter what.
But either way, seeing the extension negotiations break off and not end up being fruitful is not that big of a surprise. A disappointment on some level, yes. But a surprise? Not at all.
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hmm....Tribe decided they'd never let that happen again after Manny walked? Cause they let Jim Thome do it just two years later....
Keep in mind that no one expected Masterson to take a two-year deal, and the only real reason he's doing it is because of a possible change in the QO in the next bargaining agreement; taking a shorter contract would still enable him to still get a larger contract while he's still in his prime. A QO would probably affect his value since his track record is no better, and arguably worse, than Jimenez and Garza, so the shorter p-length contract is a calculated move on the part of Masterson and his agent, just as it was to make it seem as if the contract offer is a discount, when in reality, it isn't.
Seth, I still don't think Masterson's 2013 was that great; his 2011 was better, and his 2012 wasn't much better than Ubaldo's and that's where the rub is- can Masterson put together back-to-back strong seasons, presuming 2013 was a strong season? (I think Ubaldo had the stronger, more consistent overall 2013, along with a healthier 2013). If Masterson can put together a strong 2014 (more like he did in 2011 with better command, since I'm not confident his H and K rates will be as strong in 2014 based on his track record, necessitating the need for better command), it will be the first time he's done that in his career. I think that is a major reason why the Indians are hesitating - which Masterson are you going to get- the strong three, borderline two starter like in 2011 and parts of 2013, or the inconsistent 4-5 starter you got in 2012, and even parts of 2010 and 2013? That's why they don't think putting down 1/6 to 1/5 of this year's and next year's payroll is the best ideas, especially when other salaries will be increasing next year (including Kipnis, who they want to sign long term, plus any upgrades the Indians may need next offseason. Signing Masterson to such a contract may tie their hands to the point where they won't be able to sign anyone of significance, even a Murphy-level signing).
First, they obviously didn't need to sign both guys, they have enough other, cheaper players that are ready to move into the mix. But one of them might have been good if the terms are favorable. Kazmir's terms seemed favorable to us, Ubaldo's not so much, mostly because of the four-year commitment.
Second, there is a huge difference between $50+m (Ubaldo) plus $22m (Kazmir) and $35m. Is that not obvious? Two years at $17/yr is, in fact, a good deal, maybe even a bargain. Mostly that's because its only two years, minimizing long-term risk. And anyone who says that either of Ubaldo or Kazmir are better (or even equal) pitchers to Masterson has been smoking something.
You could say (as Hermie tries to) that Masterson is only worth $14m-$15m/year and so we shouldn't pay $17m, but that also doesn't quite hold up, as a $2m-$3m difference on two years is basically nothing. Its also VERY reasonable to think (as Seth points out) that Masterson will be worth at least $17m this year and during the next two years.
I can appreciate that the Tribe has to hold the line somewhere, I've got no problem with that, as they are a small-market team with serious attendance issues, but that particular place, IMO isn't where it makes sense to do so. Heck, they completely rolled the dice w Myers last year at $7m!
Who knows if they're exploring trade possibilities, but I know that if I was CA, that's what I would be doing right now. (I'd also be handing out pink slips to the draft team, but that's another story...)
The problem now is that they probably won't be able to move Masterson this year, assuming they're in contention and he's pitching well. So he'll walk and we'll get nothing, just like with Manny Ramirez, after which the Indians decided that would never happen again. Well, never say never.
I agree with Joe to some extent - they should have signed Ubaldo or Kazmir. I don't think signing both was doable.
After Jake Westbrook won only 7 games after signing a 3/33 deal, the Indians decided they would no longer give out long term, big money deals. They just can't take the risk.
They still have a chance to have a decent staff next year. They'll have Salazar, Kluber, McAllister, Carrasco, Bauer, Tomlin, and Cody Anderson to work with. Plus, they'll get out from under Masterson's $11 million contract and that money will be available to get a starter on the open market. They could also work a trade. Or pull a starter out of thin air, like they did with Kazmir last year.
That's just the way it is with a small market team. But with the failure to sign either Ubaldo or Kazmir, and the escalating cost of quality starters pricing them out of the Masterson market, it looks like the worst case scenario is playing out. Masterson will walk after 2014 and the Tribe will get nothing in return except a draft pick.
Ubaldo got $12.5M AAV for four years; your statement makes it sound like Masterson would get $14M over two years ($7M/year). I don't think anyone is questioning $14-15M/year for Masterson, a $14-15 AAV. I think it's when you go beyond that $15M and start pushing $20M/year for a guy who is no better than Ubaldo or Kazmir, and, honestly, hasn't done what they have in their careers that people think the Indians should not do.
He hasn't even put up back-to-back strong seasons in four years as a starter, and now we should give him close to $20M/year? That has more of a chance of being a disaster than a triumph, regardless of what MIN and CIN did, and that CIN deal is likelier to do more harm than good for them as well, since they are in the same realm of revenues as we are.
The only real reason people are even considering it is because the Indians allowed Kazmir and Jimenez to leave and the fact that the Indians have done very little to add to the young starters they're developing. They thought Masterson was the answer (and maybe thought they'd get a real hometown discount because of what Masterson has said about Cleveland and his relationship with Francona, but the proposed contract is not an actual hometown discount).
Now, people are thinking that "they have to do something," even though I don't think anyone can really say that spending $17-18M AAV on a pitcher with Masterson's track record is the best move for a team with limited financial resources like the Indians, regardless of what the Reds and Twins have done.
My point is that it would have made more sense to get two pitchers for near that figure (would have been about $23-24M AAV, about $11.5-12M AAV for both Kazmir and Jimenez) than to put all of your financial eggs in one basket with Masterson. Chances are that it still won't be enough anyway to sign him, leaving you with all three FA starters likely on the way out, exactly what I feared when this offseason first started, something that I didn't think the Indians could let happen because I don't think the farm system is strong enough to overcome three departures from the rotation. However, signing Masterson at such a large AAV has its own issues and likely would create as many or more problems than just going at it with the young pitchers and any cheap FAs they sign, as they have Kipnis to resign, others entering arbitration, extending the younger pitchers to longer-term contracts, etc. Signing Masterson to such a large AAV would hamper that ability; even if they have time with some of the younger pitchers before their contracts are up, it would be better for the Indians to lock them up sooner rather than later, and signing Masterson to such a huge contract now would make that more difficult, if not impossible, as well.
I too thought they should've signed Kazmir, since he was more in the price range I figured they were comfortable with, and I figured Masterson would require a much longer time commitment to lock up. But Kazmir getting $22 million isn't an argument that Masterson's worth $14 million for 2 years. Kazmir threw over 200 innings once in his career, and has averaged about 150 in the others, not counting the 2 where he didn't play at all. Masterson's put up around 10 fWAR over the past 3 years and the 193 IP was his lowest total since 2010. 2 years in the 25-30 million range for Masterson ... I don't get why the Indians or anyone would think Masterson would even consider a deal like that or think that's a fair deal. Maybe if he knew his elbow was hanging by a thread. If he puts up another season around 3 WAR then he's going to be worth around $18 million/year. But 4/70 would probably be the low end of what he'll be expected to get, and 2/35 will look like a ridiculous bargain
The Twins were desperate for starting pitching- that's why they paid the overrated, inconsistent Hughes that much (as well as Nolasco, and who was the third one they paid, another guy who was not that sought after by most teams?) one of the few teams willing to do that. You didn't see the Yankees/Red Sox/Tigers, even the Indians or Royals pay that. Why? Because, Minnesota is rebuilding- they probably need three to four more years before they can contend for the postseason. Who was going to go there if they didn't overpay?
Just because the Twins start signing back-of-the-rotation starters for obscene amounts doesn't mean that the Indians should start throwing money at Masterson like he's a FOR starter when he isn't. That would be foolish. That brings up all about the lack of a real salary cap, which is a topic for another thread and one that has been discussed before.
The main point I made was that you could have signed Jimenez and Kazmir for about the $20-25M you're claiming is the price for a bonafide number one starter, not much more than what is being asked for Masterson, a guy who is really no better than the aforementioned Jimenez or Kazmir, both of whom were dominant aces not that long ago, at a level that Masterson has not reached. At best, Masterson approaches their level, or if you even want to say, is at that level, but doesn't exceed that level; essentially, we could have had 2 for 1 and be better off at this point. Instead, we have to totally rely on the young pitching, which is the format the Indians should be following anyway.
The only problem is, it's going to be the young pitching, and that's it; they are pretty much going have to learn to lead the staff sooner rather than later because you will have no Kazmir, no Jimenez, and likely, no Masterson, to lead them and guide them. I don't think that's the position the Indians wanted to put their young staff in, but that's likely the situation going forward.
Let's hope that young pitching matures quickly (and I'm talking more than just Kluber and McAllister here; that also includes the likes of Carrasco, Bauer, Anderson, Tomlin, and even Salazar when it comes to adjusting to a full ML season)- the future of the Indians, as soon as 2014, and certainly 2015, will greatly depend upon it.
This is why I advocated signing Jimenez and Kazmir (he was signed so quickly, I'm not sure I mentioned it more than once or twice), but thought it was the better route for the Indians. My concern was that the Indians thought that Masterson was a "nice guy with intangibles," the connection with Tito, the fact he's led the staff the past few seasons, etc., was going to lead to them turning to him and ignoring the other two, with the real risk of them not getting Masterson either, exactly what I didn't want to see happen because I don't think the farm system is strong enough to absorb three losses to your pitching staff.
One could probably be covered, maybe two. But three? That means that everyone from Salazar to Kluber to McAllister to Carrasco to Bauer to Tomlin to Anderson to House is going to have to develop at least to some extent- that's eight starters total; when you factor in injuries and ineffectiveness, you MIGHT get five out of that. And, as you said, you're not going to get much from FA, no more than a 4-5 starter, unless you want to overpay for a three starter.
A trade might be possible, but who do you target, and how much are you willing to give up? This is all the more reason why I would have worked to resign Jimenez and Kazmir- for a little more than you'd pay for Masterson, you'd have both of them, and no one can honestly say that Masterson is heads and shoulders above those two- he has warts just as those two do. Ideas of Masterson being an ace or FOR starter are wishful thinking and hoping he takes that final step of consistency, putting together back-to-back strong seasons for the first time in his career as a starter.
Really, the Indians have put themselves into a pickle. The question is, what is the next move? Try to trade Masterson now or soon? Trade him at or near the All-Star Break/trading deadline? Ride him out to the end of this season, hoping maybe you can resign him at a slightly cheaper price (doubtful, I know)?
Everything rides on how much our young pitching develops and who emerges from the farm system in 2014: Packer? Colon? Hamrick? Lovegrove? Others? They will likely be needed sooner rather than later due to the fact that the Indians decided to go after Masterson and let Kazmir and Jimenez go, and now, the chances of Masterson being retained are very slim (though I honestly thought they were slim to begin with, slimmer than retaining Jimenez and Kazmir, in fact; why I would have gone after those two harder, even if it meant losing Masterson).
I just hope this doesn't set the Indians back long-term; now, more than ever, that young pitching must deliver as expected if the Indians are going to keep improving in the coming seasons, or the Indians could suffer a setback that hurts them in the coming seasons because of ineffective, inconsistent starting pitching.
Still don't think Masterson is a FOR - a fringe 2 at best; as I mentioned, he doesn't even have Nagy or Westbrook's track record, and NO ONE thought of them as frontline starters. The only advantage Masterson has over those two is velocity, but he has poorer command than both, and he's had as many issues, maybe more, than both of them when it comes to left-handed hitters. Masterson was better against them last year, but still not that strong.
If Masterson has had one weakness this spring, it's still his command- while his walks are low, he has hit some batters. He still has not shown the command from 2011, which I think is still the outlier in his career. In other words, I don't think we can expect to see that strong command from Masterson that we saw in 2011; he'll be slid to strong at times, but probably will still have bouts of wildness, just as he did in 2013, and especially in 2012.
As mentioned before, it's a BIG risk to sign Masterson for $17M/year; $14-15M/year, you could justify, but beyond that, it's very questionable, since he isn't a bonafide ace or frontline starter. What puts the Indians in a bind is the fact that they also lost Jimenez and Kazmir, Masterson's agent spinning it to where the proposed offer appears to be a discount, and the fanbase being largely critical of the front office and Dolan, and it makes it appear more and more that if the Indians don't sign Masterson, it's going to look like a massive fail. How it might affect the Indians this season (will it cast a shadow on it, or can they get past it and not let it distract them?) will also be interesting to see- hopefully, the leadership of Francona, Swisher, Giambi, and others will not allow it to become a distraction.
1) the two-years makes a huge difference. Imo it -- almost -- bridges the gap between the $14-15m he is probably worth and the $17m he wanted.
2) The old adage goes, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." In other words Masterson is uniquely valuable to the Tribe in this situation because they could actually get him. This is not fantasy baseball. In a few months they'll have ZERO chance of signing Justin. People act as if the Tribe could just sign Masterson after this year or go out and find someone else comparable, for a similar number of years and at $14m or so. Well, the truth is, that is just not going to happen. At that point they're competing with the Boston's and Dodgers and Yankees of the world, and in that world we will always lose. Cleveland is not going to get any player like Masterson to come here for 2 or 3yrs/$14m/yr, its just not going to happen. So, if you have any ability to shift resources, you take what is a once in a lifetime opportunity to sign a FOR pitcher (don't agree w others that he's a 3 or 4, he's a bit of a late bloomer and clearly an all-star FOR stud now) without a long-term financial commitment, and suck it up on the $3m/year difference in value.
Masterson's camp will likely claim that Masterson has a longer track record of success, and is thus the better pitcher, and they'd be right, but NEITHER is an ace at this point, and thus, the Indians shouldn't be throwing money at Masterson just because the deal "looked" to be a discount. Instead it was more the value of what a bonafide ace should be paid, which Masterson definitely is not. In reality, he's no better than Jimenez and Kazmir (could make an argument he's not as good), and those two got AAVs of $12.5 and $11M, I, believe. No way is Masterson worth nearly 5-6 M more.
Certainly, the Bailey contract didn't help the Indians, and it wouldn't surprise if it doesn't help the Reds down the road either, especially since the Reds are in the same ballpark as the Indians when it comes to budgets and revenues (I.e. Small-market, mid-market, not large-market).
In fairness Masterson has had more than one good year...he was arguably better in 2011 than he was in 2013 (by a good margin).
"But the way information came out about Masterson's "benevolence" with the offer, Cleveland was quickly painted into a corner. Take the non-bargain deal and have a 15-20 percent chunk of the payroll tied up with Masterson or turn down the deal and face another round of criticism for being "cheap." This quickly turned into a no-win situation for Cleveland."
Yeah I have been wondering if this kind of turned the Indians off. Fans hear Masterson's camp saying they're willing to leave money on the table, take a team friendly deal...then see the total dollar amount ($51M) as less than half what Bailey's total deal was ($106M) and just assume the deal at hand was very team friendly and the Indians are being cheap.
When in reality the AAV is $17M...which while below what Bailey got is actually $1M more than what Anibal Sanchez (the better pitcher) got. And it's way more than most comparable pitchers to Masterson got. Masterson's camp is focussing on Bailey's AAV and acting like they are giving the Tribe a bargain....Indians are likely looking at Sanchez, Garza, Ubaldo, Nolasco, Jackson, Santana, etc and seeing $17M as the complete opposite of a bargain.
Sure the years are a bargain, will give them that.. The Masterson 3yr$51M proposal almost makes me wonder if he doesn't want to be in Cleveland like he supposedly says. Can't imagine he thought the Tribe would give him $17M a year...and now he has public opinion on his side if he leaves (still don't think that's a given though).
One contract/player that I haven't seen linked to Masterson but the deal is similar is Tim Lincecum. Gotta wonder if his camp isn't looking at that 2yr/$35M deal and thinking they deserve the same. You could argue that he does as recently Masterson has been better than Lincecum...but Lincecum has the better history/higher ceiling. Plus...who looks at that deal now and thinks the Giants did the right thing? Had they waited and just given Tim the QO (they resigned him before they needed too), would they have gotten him a lot cheaper? IMO they would have....who gives up a draft pick for Lincecum at this point? Or should I say, who gives one up AND gives him $17.5M per season? Ubaldo and Santana were both better than Lincecum in 2013 and both got no where near that AAV.
Two years 14 million is the most I'd go and that's because I'm an old softie at heart,he's worth less than that.