This past Tuesday, Justin Masterson was a few hours away from hopping on a flight from Spring Training and heading down to Florida for his arbitration hearing with the Indians. However, Masterson and the Tribe eventually agreed on a one-year, $9,762,500 deal. While some applaud Chris Antonetti for being able to settle before the hearing, I myself am questioning why the GM couldn’t get a long-term deal done, as it will most likely lead to Masterson’s exit at season’s end.
I understand that negotiating contract extensions can be a strenuous, drawn-out ordeal, that most of the time does not work out. I also understand that Masterson and his agent could be asking for a significantly high salary, or could even be flat out refusing to negotiate. According to Masterson, however, this is not the case. The Cleveland Ace has been very public about letting it be known that he is open to negotiating an extension, even stating that he is willing to continue negotiations into the season. Antonetti, on the other hand, has let it be known that he favors ending negotiations at the start of the season. Fans can argue either point; why not continue attempts to resign Masterson during the season? While others argue that the team’s focus during the season should be on winning baseball games, and not contract extensions. I side with the former.
To those who disagree with my take on Antonetti and make the argument that there’s still time to reach agreement on a long-term deal, I ask you this: when have the Indians ever extended a top of the rotation pitcher? CC Sabathia? Cliff Lee? Jake Westbrook? Sure, Sabathia and Lee were guaranteed to be out of the Tribe’s price range, but these types of names should remind you of the Tribe’s reluctance to ink long-term deals with pitchers, especially when heading into their last year of their contract.
Speaking of price ranges, Homer Bailey’s recent contract is another sign that Masterson’s departure is almost sure to happen. Bailey received a six-year, $105 million contract with the Reds. Bailey is an extremely comparable pitcher to Masterson, and his contract will be a benchmark for Masterson’s future deal. Most would even argue that Masterson would command even more than that. In the end, can you see the Indians paying Masterson anything close to what Bailey received? Most would say not at all. If for some reason the Tribe does end up paying that kind of cash, it would be truly astonishing.
Let’s assume that Masterson does end up with another team next season. What does that mean for the Tribe’s rotation? Take Salazar, Kluber, McAllister and then choose two of the current players vying for the Tribe’s fifth spot this year, and hope they make incredible strides this season. That’s a lot of gambling to do for a team that plans on contending for the next few seasons. The front office has done so much to build this rotation into what it is today, it would be unfortunate to let its top pitcher and leader leave the team. Sustaining success is hard to do, especially without consistent and reliable pitchers like Masterson.
What it boils down to is that Cleveland’s front office is very hesitant to dole out large, expensive contracts for pitchers. This should not surprise Tribe fans, especially with our history of being a small-market team with a low payroll. Fans were spoiled last offseason, as the club was in rare form. The Tribe splurged on big-name players Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. That is most likely a one-time deal that was made possible due to financial gains from the new television deal. It’s time fans get used to the old ways again, where the checkbook stays closed, and we have to painfully watch as top players leave Cleveland.