Will the Indians Extend Justin Masterson?


Justin Masterson’s Future Could be a Top Priority

It is being reported that the Cleveland Indians are considering entering into negotiations with their ace, Justin Masterson, on a possible contract extension. Due to hit free agency following the 2014 season, the heat is on for the Indians to make a decision on their top starter, especially since they stand to lose both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir this offseason via free agency.

For the Indians the logic is simple. Find a happy medium in terms of years and dollars that both they and Masterson can agree upon now. Waiting until after the 2014 season could be disastrous, especially if he turns in a season similar to 2013 in which he went 14-10 with 3.45 ERA, 1.202 WHIP, 9.1 SO/9, and three complete game shutouts. Based on those numbers and the numbers he produced in 2011, Masterson could demand top dollar right now. Turn in a third dominant season out of four and then we may be talking about legitimate front line starter money.

Jul 10, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) delivers in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

For Justin Masterson, the decision he makes is a gamble either way. As it stands today, he is looking for a five-year deal somewhere in the $65-million to $85-million dollar range. If the Indians come to him with a contract extension that fits within that figure, he has to weigh taking guaranteed money now over possibly waiting and cashing in on a bigger payday following the season. He could also stand to lose significant money in the event of a major injury or a complete fall off in performance.

One factor working in Masterson’s favor is the newly signed national TV contracts. Those contracts with the major networks for the right to broadcast both regular season and playoff games will begin pumping more money into the game in 2014. That means there will be significantly more money available for teams to spend on free agent acquisitions. For that reason alone, there may be little incentive for Masterson to sign an extension right now. He may be better to wait until all of that new-found money is in the pipeline which could bring more bidders, and therefore more demand, to the table.

We have also yet to see just how the market for quality starting pitching will shake out. With free agency yet to really get going, there is no real set value on what it will cost to acquire a starting pitcher, particularly a front line starter. Tim Lincecum‘s recent extension with the Giants is an indication that a crazy stupid amount of money may be spent this offseason and several players have reportedly been asking for upwards of $100-million. Depending on how things play out, Masterson’s expected salary increase could easily go from the $65-million-$85-million range to $85-million-$100-million.

However, for the Indians there is no real urgency to get a deal done this instant. There are several other more pressing areas of need which need to be addressed first and Masterson will still be under contract for this season. So while the issue of extending Justin Masterson has bubbled up to the surface now, we may not begin to hear about actual discussions until mid-January when the arbitration process begins.

In order to avoid arbitration, the Indians could offer to give Masterson a raise for 2014, or they could lock him in with a new deal all together. As a team that avoids arbitration like the plague, the latter can’t be ruled out as a possibility.

So should the Indians consider extending Masterson now rather than waiting for the sexy allure of free agency to possibly pry him away? Undoubtedly, the answer to the question is yes. He has been a solid contributor and established himself capable of being a legitimate front of the rotation starter. While extending him now will not be cheap by any means, it is still possible that they could get some sort of discount by doing it now rather than waiting.