The price tag for pitching is a premium that used to result in sudden jolts of sticker shock. Baseball is now in an economical era of crazy amounts of money being given to even just serviceable players these days, so it should come as no surprise that pitching, the game’s most precious commodity, get’s the lion’s share of it all. The nine-figure contracts, once so infrequent and reserved for the true behemoths of the sport, are now being given out with such reckless regularity now that they barely register a shrug of acknowledgement. Now that baseball has crossed the $200 million barrier more than just a few times, it’s probably a good idea to capitalize on a quality bargain when you can.
According to Paul Hoynes, Justin Masterson is asking for up to $60 million over four years. Yeah, that’s a lot of money to us nobodies, but it’s barely a middling income for a player of his stature these days. The Indians still have their reputation of being penny-pinchers, but this is Masterson already pinching the pennies for them. If the parties involved don’t close this deal, a deal in which Masterson is truly being a team player by essentially freeing up some money to allow for a potential Jason Kipnis extension, then it’ll be a massive disappointment and a 180 degree turn in the goodwill that the fanbase was slowly beginning to recreate with the Dolans. That building of faith is now stronger than it’s ever been at any time since they’ve taken over. There’s finally a clear expectation to compete for an extended period of time. Remember, they ultimately finished just one game behind the Tigers for the division. Letting both Masterson and Kipnis eventually walk would be another public relations disaster that not even Terry Francona would fix. And if that happens, would he even stay? The odds would certainly be diminished, regardless of how much he clearly loves the organization.
In some ways, you can call Justin Masterson the most polite diabolical genius alive. He has the Indians right where they want them, because it would be borderline ridiculous for the brass to not pay a discount where Justin has basically agreed without coercion to undercut his own personal value to stay. It’s one thing to take a hometown discount; it’s another to see a player basically play himself into the ownership’s hands, and to do it willingly. If the price of success demands that a team usually has to pay top dollar, then I’m not sure what you’d call this. But it’s one of the most truest team-first sacrifices I’ve ever seen.
Just a few days ago, I said that I didn’t think the Indians would be able to re-sign Masterson (or Kipnis, for that matter). While I’m not sure it will happen before the team kicks off the season, I’m starting to feel much more confident that a deal will be reached sooner rather than later, and it’s more of a definite probability rather than a flat never. (Which, would’ve been never if it were still Acta’s rudderless ship, no matter how uncommonly nice the guy is. FRANCONA EFFECT!)
And if the Indians still aren’t convinced, I hope they remembered the terms that Ubaldo Jimenez started out with, and how he was looking for one of those nine-figure deals before the market laughed at him all the way down to basically half of what he was seeking. Jimenez was banking on a rusting Cy Young award in his closet and a last-ditch rush to a major payday in which he finally resembled the kind of guy we were hoping to see all along.
That, apparently, isn’t Masterson’s style. He knows that this team has the potential to be something special in a winnable division. And unlike so many of his baseball peers, he has embraced the concept of less is more to see it come to fruition.