No one knows how to throw a wet blanket on growing enthusiasm like the Cleveland Indians.
After a September that woke up the interest in the team enough that the wild card game was attended by a sellout, boisterous throng, the front office’s biggest splash this off-season was signing OF David Murphy, who hit .220 for Texas last season.
And now, with the Tribe compiling the sport’s best record in exhibition play and fans looking forward to Opening Day next week, comes the word that talks on a long-term contract with starting pitcher Justin Masterson have broken off.
There are pros and cons on Masterson, the biggest con being that he has spent four years in Cleveland as a starter, and has had two solid seasons (12-10, 3.21 ERA in ’11, and 14-10, 3.45 ERA in ’13) out of those four. The other seasons were 6-13, 4.70 ERA in ’10 and 11-15, 4.93 ERA in 2012.
He’s been inconsistent, although when he has had pitching coaches who stress pounding the strike zone (Tim Belcher in 2011 and Mickey Calloway in 2013), he has been successful.
The other thing you can’t take away from the big right-hander, who just turned 29 years of age, is that he’s an innings eater, throwing an average of 199 innings per season in those four years.
Masterson was willing to sign a shorter term deal with the Indians, which would be club-friendly, but at a fair market value. That way the Tribe would be protected from a long-term commitment.
Our premise is there is nothing bad about a one-year deal because the club is out of it after one season. For example, did the Brett Myers signing really have an adverse effect on the Cleveland Indians? Of course not.
So, a three-year deal even at the reported $17 million per year, isn’t the crippling deal that the Travis Hafner contract became. Hafner’s five-year contract was a bust because of injuries over that span.
A three-year deal is reasonable and manageable, especially for someone with the durability of Masterson.
The fact of the matter is this is the baseball climate the Indians are playing in, and the amount of money the guy who has started each of the last three Opening Days for Cleveland is the market value, whether the front office likes it or not.
Homer Bailey received a six-year contract with Cincinnati over the winter at a similar dollar per year figure, and Masterson’s numbers are comparable if not better.
And most baseball people consider the best starting pitchers on the market after the 2014 season are James Shields, Max Scherzer, Jorge De La Rosa, Jon Lester, and…Masterson.
So, he’s going to get a big deal from someone after this season.
The Indians are still living in the moral high ground concerning free agency, apparently one of the last teams to do that.
They will tell you that Masterson hasn’t proven he can put two solid seasons back to back, and that’s why they can’t make that kind of financial commitment. However, the days of teams paying for past performance are in the past.
Today, teams have to pay based on what’s going to happen over the next three years.
The point is this is the market value for solid starting pitchers. The really good ones (Kershaw, Verlander, etc.) get $22 million per season.
If the Dolan ownership can’t pay the market value for players, then their really isn’t a bright future for Indians’ fans as long as the current ownership is in place.
To have that pointed out once again right before the start of the season is another kick in the teeth for Indians’ fans. And another reminder that an ownership that is unable to pay market value for players should think about selling the team.