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Winter Meetings Recap: Lots of mixed messages on Masterson

Winter Meetings Recap: Lots of mixed messages on Masterson
December 11, 2013
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Day three of the 2013 Winter Meetings is close to wrapping up. The news and rumors will surely continue into the night, and if anything of substance regarding the Indians has legs I will provide the update on Twitter @TonyIBI and in the newswire to the right. If anything more significant gains legs I will surely post it to the front page as well.

Masterson continues to dominate Indians headlines

There are a lot of mixed messages being sent out about the availability of Indians right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson.

On one side you have GMs for other teams telling several media members such as Joel Sherman that the Indians “will listen but they're also trying to win, so I don't think he is that available." Others have told various other media types such as Nick Cafardo who says “It was tough to buy at first but two Gms have confirmed that Indians righty Justin Masterson is very much available but at a high cost.”

GM Chris Antonetti has not denied that the Indians have discussed trading Masterson, but as I noted yesterday, he is simply listening to teams and then talking through and exploring their options. Teams do that all the time with virtually every player on the roster. Heck, I’m sure the Indians have discussed Jason Kipnis and others in trades at some point. But when it is Masterson, alarm bells go off and it catches fire in the media because of his status as a big time pitcher, his proximity to free agency and the Indians history with keeping players nearing free agency.

Manager Terry Francona has gone out of his way to deny the Indians have discussed trading Masterson, which he has to do. He is protecting his team and clubhouse. He may not be telling the whole truth, but this is nothing new as managers do this all the time even when we know players are being shopped in trades or that that a transaction of some sort is coming. Managers deny them until the move is official. So don’t read too much into Francona saying that he called Masterson and personally told him he is not being traded, because if Antonetti gets an unbelievable offer for Masterson he could very well be traded.

I still don’t see the Indians dealing Masterson, but there appears to be a growing market that has a lot of interest in him. We have heard from Joel Sherman that the Diamondbacks would “love” to acquire him and according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today the Yankees also would like him. But, again, as ESPN’s Buster Olney said today, a source told him (likely the Indians front office) that “there are no legs to the Masterson trade talk.”

A lot of this may be confusing to a lot of fans where it appears that Masterson is being shopped but the Indians are denying it only to have other reports kind of add more confusion to all of it. But bottom line, the way this is working is the Indians are simply keeping their options open and will only deal him if they are overwhelmed in a deal.

The fact of the matter is this: less than 11 months from now Masterson is entering free agency. At this time next year he will be one of the most sought after players in the free agent market, especially if he has another good year on the mound for the Indians in 2014. History shows the Indians have a hard time resigning such players because of the cost involved in years. It is not the amount for one year which prevents them from signing such players, it is the commitment to that amount for five, six or seven years which is deemed too risky.

If it were me, I would not trade Masterson unless the Indians are significantly overwhelmed. Right now the Indians are guaranteed to have him for the 2014 season and at least get a first round pick as compensation if he leaves after next season. Unless something unique and out of this world happens, I just can't see a scenario where the Indians get a good enough return for him to trade him now and lose him at the top of the rotation next year and also lose that pick. Not to mention the significant public relations hit they would take.

I'd first exhaust every opportunity at a long term deal at four or five years at $15-16 million a season and throw in a vesting club option for an additional year or two. The Indians say they have not yet had extension talks with Masterson, so they do not really know what it will cost to sign him long term. Perhaps they do that after they determine his trade market. At that time they may have to make a decision about they believe they can really resign him or not, and if they can't, then they need to decide if one year of him and a first round pick trumps trading him now for a couple of major league or near ready players.

But here is my problem. If the Indians can give Nick Swisher an average of $14 million per season over four years, or Michael Bourn an average of $12 million per season for four years, it is inexcusable not to offer $15-18 million a season for a front of the rotation starter in Masterson who is much more vital to the success of the team. Masterson is an All Star and one of the game’s top pitchers while Swisher and Bourn are not All Star types and are just solid players. He has proven to be durable and just fits this team and city so well.

If it comes down to the Indians needing to trade Masterson or let him go after next season because they don’t have enough money in their budget, then it really makes their decision to sign Bourn (or Swisher) last offseason look bad. If they knew they would be under such a budget crunch, it would have made a lot more sense not to sign Bourn and just go with someone else or bank the money. If they lose Masterson after this season because of someone like Bourn eating up $13 million a year of available payroll, then what was the purpose of such a signing in the first place?

Hopefully all this is for naught and the Indians can extend Masterson. Pitching is what wins championships, not complementary guys in the lineup like Bourn or Swisher. If you have pitching you have to try and keep it at all costs. Now, if Masterson wants C.C. Sabathia or Cliff Lee money, then fine, I understand why it would be wise for the Indians to move on and trade him or not resign him. But if he wants Anibal Sanchez money (5 years, $80 million), there is no excuse not to offer it.  If there ever was a pitcher for the Indians to keep around, it is him.

News and Notes

- According to several reports the Indians are interested in free agent right-handed reliever Joba Chamberlain. Other teams like the Tigers and Diamondbacks are also in the mix, and one report mentioned the Diamondbacks had a one year $3 million deal out to him. He had been a pretty good reliever for the Yankees up through the 2011 season, but struggled the past two seasons with injuries and consistency. There is no denying the stuff and maybe the Yankees mishandled him jerking him between the bullpen and rotation. On a one year deal for minimal money, he might be an interesting arm to take a look at, which is why the Indians have inquired into him.

- Over the past few weeks I have been talking about how in addition to Drew Stubbs the Indians may explore trade opportunities with other outfielders on the roster like Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn. Well, today Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports kind of jumped in on that belief tweeting this: “Surplus for #Indians in OF: Bourn, Murphy, Raburn, Stubbs, Brantley. Something likely will give. Team listening on virtually all players.” Before anyone gets upset at the potential loss of Brantley or even Bourn, again, like I mentioned with Masterson yesterday, the Indians have to listen and discuss all of their players as they may find they are missing out on an opportunity to trade a player who is much more valued by someone else and get a good return for them. One of the outfielders will be traded before the season starts, and it likely will be Stubbs, but Bourn and Brantley are certainly possibilities as well.

- Speaking of outfielders, and I hate to continue harping on the guy, but boy is the Michael Bourn signing looking like a mistake more and more every day. The Tigers just signed Rajai Davis to a two year deal for between $9-10 million, and now with Adam Eaton going to the White Sox they are making Alejandro De Aza available. Bourn is the more accomplished player of the three, but Davis and De Aza are nice secondary guys who are very close in what they provide and most importantly do it at a fraction of the cost and commitment than Bourn. At the time, the Indians got Bourn at a below market deal last year, but there are just better ways to spend $13 million a year on a player when you are a smaller market team. If I am the Indians, I am doing everything humanly possible to trade Bourn and get out from under that deal so it frees up money to use in free agency this offseason and potentially resigning Masterson to an extension.

- According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark the Indians are one of a handful of teams interested in free agent right-handed reliever Mitchell Boggs. Like with the interest mentioned yesterday in right-handed reliever Matt Guerrier, this appears to me to be more the Indians kicking the tires on potential depth options for the middle of the bullpen and replace the role held by the departing Matt Albers. Maybe not even that as he had an awful 2013 season and probably won’t command more than a minor league deal. He made 27 appearances in the big leagues and went 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA, 2.06 WHIP, 7.7 BB/9 and 6.2 K/9, and was almost as bad in the minors where he made 34 appearances and went 1-6 with a 6.07 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9 and 4.7 K/9. He was pretty good for the Cardinals from 2010-2012 as he made 190 appearances and went 8-7 with a 3.08 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, and 7.1 K/9, so the Indians may be looking at him as a bounce back candidate.

- According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports the Indians are interested in utility infielder Jamey Carroll. Carroll was with the Indians in 2008 and 2009 and he served his utility role well, but he will be 40-years old next season. I look at any interest in Carroll in one of two ways. If he is only in line for a minor league deal, he would make sense to sign to give the Indians another depth option to Mike Aviles in the event he is hurt this spring or Jose Ramirez has a setback in his recovery from thumb surgery - he had the surgery today and is out 8-12 weeks. But if he has to be signed to a major league deal, then it could only really happen if Asdrubal Cabrera or Aviles are traded this offseason. Right now there is no spot on the roster to add Carroll. He would not be looked at as a replacement for Ramirez as Ramirez was not even on the opening day roster to begin with, so he would have to replace one of Cabrera or Aviles. If Cabrera were to be dealt, then I could see a scenario where Carroll is signed and he becomes the utility option (in competition with Ramirez) and Aviles becomes the starting shortstop until Francisco Lindor is hopefully ready midseason.

- According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Indians had interest in right-handed pitcher Bartolo Colon. They were only interested in him on a one year deal and had no interest in a multi-year deal, and he ended up signing a 2-year $20 million deal with the Mets. Colon was a guy that I was really interested in picking up, but only on a one year deal. In the grand scheme of things, one year versus two years means nothing in most cases, but it is a big deal when you are talking about a pitcher who will pitch those two years at age 41 and 42. No thanks.

- From the Department of Laughter, according to several reports, right-handed pitcher Brett Myers believes he is healthy and over his right flexor tendon issue and wants to sign a deal with someone. I think unless he is willing to sign a minor league deal with someone, his career might be about done. From what I have heard, Myers was not exactly the best guy to have around last season and there are some in the industry who believe he should have just had surgery on his arm back in the spring to get it over with. It is almost inevitable the issue will crop up again. Unfortunately, the Indians learned the hard way on Myers as they blew $7 million on him. Between that deal and the $5 million they gave to Grady Sizemore the previous offseason, that is $12 million which virtually was thrown in the garbage the past two years.

- I noted yesterday that former Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore is looking for a deal with someone and that the Indians are not interested. I think the Astros would be a good opportunity for him because of less pressure to win now and afford players on the rebound an opportunity to prove themselves. What is more interesting is he may be looked at as a first baseman, which makes sense since his knees are probably shot.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Robert
December 12, 2013 - 4:26 PM EST
I think the reason they didn't trade Ubaldo is not because of an organizational shift in philosophy, but because they couldn't get anything of value for him. His potential upside was worth WAY more than any trash teams would give us before last year's trade deadline (and before he pulled everything together).

Masterson is another story altogether. He's at maybe his highest value ever right now and until July. I could see CA waiting to see if the team is in contention come the trade deadline. Or not. Maybe depends on what the returns look like. Obviously, Bradley and Walker would be great returns. But I would trade him to AZ now for Delgado, Spruill, and Davidson...
Rich
December 12, 2013 - 3:52 PM EST
Hermie, I think the Indians were OK with getting a first round pick as compensation for Ubaldo. And at this point they really needed a to have winning season to keep what few fans they have left.

Letting Masterson walk in exchange for only a draft pick is not something I think they want to do, but they may have no choice. With Kazmir and presumably Ubaldo gone, that's 340 innings they have to replace. If Masterson is traded, they're basically admitting that they're starting another rebuild and they won't be contending in '14.

I think they'll try to free up some money with a Bourn trade and also letting Cabrera walk so they can sign Masterson to a long term deal.
Willie
December 12, 2013 - 10:47 AM EST
Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) has signed with the Phillies. He could actually benefit from a move to the NL.

Rumors the Indians are kicking the tires on Shaun Marcum, not surprising. The mkt is getting thinner.

Sounds as if Garza will sign with the Angels or Dbax sometime soon. Could hear news today. The Dbax have lost a lot of pitching depth this past week or so...Heath Bell (tr), David Holmberg (tr), Tyler Skaggs (tr), Patrick Schuster (R5), Kevin Munson (R5) and OF Adam Eaton (tr). Speculation here, but IF they sign Garza they might be willing to move a vet SP for some prospects. Plus, the Dbax non-tendered Sipp and Hudson. Both remain FA. Although we should hear a Hudson signing soon, seems likely they waited on it until after the R5 draft.
Hermie13
December 12, 2013 - 10:15 AM EST
The Indians "swore" no such thing from what I recall. Had the Tribe been in contention in 2008 and not lost 10 in a row in early June, CC wouldn't have been traded. He was dealt because the team was struggling AND he was a free agent. Unless Antonetti thinks 2014 is a lost cause I'd be very surprised if Masty is dealt this winter.

Maybe this summer if we fall 10+ games out in July they look at dealing him but if they are close or in 1st, no way they deal him.

We are probably losing Ubaldo in free agency...why didn't we trade him this summer then? It's cause we were playoff contenders.
Rich
December 12, 2013 - 9:28 AM EST
After watching Manny and Thome leave in free agency and getting nothing in return, the Indians swore they wouldn't let that happen again. Hence the trades of Sabathia, VMart, Choo, and others before their contracts expired.

What makes anyone think Masterson will be any different? If the Indians can't sign him they will deal him. Do they consider a first round draft pick adequate compensation for a starter of Masterson's caliber? I seriously doubt it.

My guess is they are waiting to see what the top FA pitchers like Ubaldo and Garza get, and then they'll decide whether they can afford to offer Masterson a deal he will consider. If they can't afford him, or if he won't accept their best offer ala' Thome, then I expect them to trade him to the highest bidder.

It will suck to lose Ubaldo, Kazmir, and Masterson in the same off-season, but their organizational philosophy and budget constraints will force their hand.

If they can unload Bourn's salary, which doesn't seem realistic, that could help them sign Masterson. I doubt they can afford Bourn, Swisher, AND Masterson, plus have enough left over to pay the rest of the team. Something's got to give.
Walter
December 12, 2013 - 9:05 AM EST
I am assuming that any FA signing major or minor contracts and any trade by the Indians will probably happen in the next 3 to 4 weeks. I thinks by the first week of January we will know what the roster will look like going into SPT.

Hoping in any minor league deals they sign have the quality they got from last year signings. Raburn, Kazmir, and Giambi.
Willie
December 12, 2013 - 8:21 AM EST
Last post should have read Montero and Smoak are ON the trade mkt.
Willie
December 12, 2013 - 8:19 AM EST
I completely agree, in fact I don't deal Masterson unless they get Taijuan Walker, Archie Bradley or even Jameson Taillon. However, I would deal him for several big leaguers, including one with AS potential like Trevor Cahill or Patrick Corbin. I saw Corbin pitch 4 times in '12 and that he was on tier or close with Bauer and Skaggs. He looked better than either last yr. That's the type of arm they'd have to bring back.

Btw, word is Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak are now not trade mkt. Either could be interesting role players.
anonymous
December 12, 2013 - 3:18 AM EST
Im a huge fan of masterson both as a player and person, but if theres an offer for say... Archie bradley, then i take the pr hit and trade him. AZ clearly has no plan, just look at the moves theyv made this year and last year, insanity.

If there was ever a pitcher to keep in cleveland at all costs, it was cliff lee, not masterson. Cliffy is elite, masterson is good.
Tony
December 12, 2013 - 1:00 AM EST
Micheal, it may not be a question of who the Indians can sign with the money they save by trading Bourn......but who they can keep.
Michael
December 12, 2013 - 12:23 AM EST
If we did trade Bourn to free up some money, who could you possibly sign with the saved money that is any better than Bourn? This is a market that gave Scott Feldman 10 million a year. The free agent market is crazy this year. I think the Indians are being smart right now.
Roger
December 11, 2013 - 11:19 PM EST
the mariners have sure made a lot of noise in disney town for a 4th place team. They were 4th in 2012 and 2013 and should be 4th in 2014 ever with hart, morrison, and robbie cano. lot of money lot of talent the worlds best 4th place team. but i dont see them catching the angels, rangers, and the A'a who i dont think repeat in the west but the jet lag division has some real talent. The astros may in fact lose over 100 games again and be improved but 75 games against the 4 jauuggerer nauts in the AT ((B)West. The divion is a monster division to compete in. i see where they got hart for roughly 5 million with incentives not too bad. wonder is smoak is readily available for a minimum of not top of the shelf prospects.
Willie
December 11, 2013 - 10:16 PM EST
Hearing teams talk like Toronto, suggesting they almost have a three way trade done...makes me wonder if it the same deal / similar deal to move Sergio Santos.

Then the Giants asst. GM saying they've almost worked a deal for a LF...that's probably Gardner from the Yanks, but you never know might be Brantley or Stubbs.

I disagree, with Tony on John Axford IF they can sign him for a reasonable deal. Axford made $5 M last yr, and lost the CL role in Milwaukee before being traded to the Cards. Mlbtraderumors.com projected Axford to land $5.7 M in arb.

The Cards reportedly picked up something - he was tipping off his pitches. They made a minor tweak in his delivery and he was lights out after that, posting a sub-2 era in August and Sept. Also, Axford was back hitting 95-98 after the adjustments regaining his velocity. Another perk to potentially signing Axford is he comes with 3 yrs of control. He was a Super-2 second time arb. eligible.

Axford's price should be down bc of his early struggles, but he ended his career in Milwaukee strong and was better with the Cards for his brief stay. The Cards moving on from Axford was entirely a money move. Plus the Cards had equal or better talent at a much cheaper price in their farm system. I think signing Axford for 2 yrs / $9 M plus incentives could be a reasonable deal. As long as it fall around $5 M per yr or less and he pitches effectively, I think he could be a nice add. Plus, they could have a third yr option or final arb potentially.
Robert
December 11, 2013 - 10:03 PM EST
I think that it makes complete sense to shop Masterson now, and I really hope that they are doing just that. Would much rather get a return now or in July than just let him walk at the end of 2014, even with the draft pick (I have no confidence whatsoever in the tribe's ability to draft!).

Re the statement, "If it comes down to the Indians needing to trade Masterson or let him go after next season because they don’t have enough money in their budget..." I just don't get it. It won't ever come down to just that because Justin has something to do with it, no? In other words, it may be entirely possible that they have enough in the budget, but that Masterson has or will decide regardless to test the FA market. It may have very little to do with the Indians, and more to do with wanting to cash in on the lottery that is the FA market.
yourtribe
December 11, 2013 - 10:00 PM EST
Tony, agree totally. I'll take Stubbs and the freed up money over bourn yesterday! Say a prayer!
yourtribe
December 11, 2013 - 9:56 PM EST
Dump bourn at any cost to free up money. Hopefully we can find one taker? Not saying he's a stiff but could really use the cash.
J. Carroll? Please no. Total waste of a roster spot. Can't hit or run. At least get someone with some athleticism.

Hopefully Masterson signs a deal. Just can't take another pitcher dump next July. If he's not signed by April its probably not going to happen.
Seth
December 11, 2013 - 9:06 PM EST
I don't know, I'm not real bullish on Bourn, especially the last couple years of his contract, but I think there's a good chance he's worth the money this coming year. And if Bourn's not with the team last year, they don't make the playoffs. They didn't gain much with that playoff appearance, since they rolled over to the Rays, but still, they gave themselves a shot, and they likely don't beat out the Rangers if they don't have Bourn. Bourn's had bad years in the past, like 2008 and 2010, and bounced back to have really good years. I don't think he's done being a good player yet. Stubbs has been the same guy for 3 years, there's way less upside than with Bourn.
Tony
December 11, 2013 - 8:46 PM EST
That should be an 88 wRC+ for Stubbs, my typo
Tony
December 11, 2013 - 8:44 PM EST
This is a case where I have a problem with WAR because I believe Bourn's WAR output is significantly inflated by some overrated defensive measures. Maybe I am wrong on that. Just what I see.

Bourn and Stubbs are pretty similar defensively and base running-wise. The difference is negligible. Offensively, I agree, Bourn is the better player, but look at these numbers from 2013:

Bourn: .263/.316/.360/.676, .300 wOBA, 91 wRC+, 93 OPS+
Stubbs: .233/.305/.360/.665, .296 wOBA, 99 wRC+, 90 OPS+

Not sure I see the significant dropoff. It is a dropoff, but marginal to me. And considering Stubbs costs $3.5M and Bourn costs $13.5M, and either one should be hitting 9th, save the freaking money and give it to Stubbs and hit him 9th and use the Bourn savings on something else or to retain Masterson. What a waste of a signing Bourn was.
Seth
December 11, 2013 - 8:28 PM EST
Bourn past 2 years: 8 WAR. Stubbs last 2 years: 2 WAR. No reason not to project Bourn for another 2-3 WAR year. No reason not to project Stubbs to another 0-1 WAR year. Bourn's actually been slightly more valuable in bWAR, which doesn't use UZR.

At this point Stubbs is what he is. He has some speed, he seems to play a good CF (but was shaky in right field last year), but he is horrible with the bat. Bourn has some trends that aren't good, like the declining steals and increasing strikeout rate, but he's more likely to bounce back then he is to become Drew Stubbs. Bourn was above average on offense in 2012. He was above average on offense for the 1st half of last year. I think you have an overly pessimistic view of Bourn to think that he isn't a significant upgrade over Stubbs.
Tony
December 11, 2013 - 7:48 PM EST
Going from Bourn to Stubbs is not a significant downgrade at all. It is a downgrade, but marginal if you ask me. Same defense. Same speed. About 20-30 points worse OBP, about 20-30 points more SLG. Both strikeout. I know WAR will say otherwise, but a lot of that comes from his over-rated defensive ability. He's a good outfielder, but not the elite top of charts defender that UZR makes him out to be.
John
December 11, 2013 - 7:36 PM EST
I think the best route in regards to the surplus of outfielders is to field offers for all of them besides Murphy (you don't trade a guy a couple weeks after you sign him) and go with the best overall offer.

They don't need to sit there today and force the issue by saying we need to trade Bourn (which would be the best choice). Whichever person brings back more value than they're worth is the one to go. It's not going to be Raburn or Murphy and it's almost certainly not going to be Brantley but who knows.
Hermie13
December 11, 2013 - 7:36 PM EST
Bourn to Stubbs is only a downgrade vs righties. It's actually an upgrade vs lefties. If you can find someone that can hit righties...say Alejandra De Aza from Chicago (who is rumored to be available) then you'd actually improve the lineup by dealing Bourn...
Tony
December 11, 2013 - 7:31 PM EST
Update: According to Jon Heyman the Indians are eyeing John Axford for the closer's role. The Orioles also have interested.

I have said it before, but I pass on Axford. I am not big on him at all. Chris Perez redux to me. I would rather sign someone else. Hopefully the Orioles win this one!
Seth
December 11, 2013 - 7:08 PM EST
Still don't see how you can trade Bourn unless you acquire another outfielder first. The Indians have a lot of outfielders, but the only two who are viable, full-time starters are Bourn and Brantley (unless Swisher is physically capable of moving back to the outfield). Bourn wouldn't be worth much of a prospect in a trade, and then you'd have Stubbs starting in CF. That's a significant downgrade. You'd save $9 million or so, but I don't think spending $9 million elsewhere would replace that drop-off in production from Bourn to Stubbs. The last 2 years of his contract look sketchy, but then again, he might bounce back and have a better year in 2014.
Canadian Joe
December 11, 2013 - 6:50 PM EST
So, essentially nothing happened again today. Considering the rumors outlined above, that's not a bad thing. There is not one name mentioned above that intrigues me. Doing nothing in the free agent market does not surprise me. Any upgrades will be done thru trades, namely Bourne, Cabrera or Stubbs, so Mr. Antonetti, select wisely as the eyes of Cleveland are upon you !!!

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