The Master of a Justin Masterson Deal Needs to Think Again


Is Dealing Justin Masterson Smart?

Maybe it is nothing but another hot stove rumor, but the talks of a Justin Masterson trade would concern me if I was an Indians fan. [editor’s note: Evan is a fan of the Reds. None of us are really sure why.] Buster Olney of ESPN reported that the Arizona Diamondbacks are interested in both Masterson and Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija. The Diamondbacks appear to be all-in after winning 81 games in 2013, but after reaching the playoffs in 2013 via the Wild Card and winning 92 games, why would the Indians even consider a Masterson trade?

With Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn brought in last offseason, the Tribe appeared and still appears to be in win-now mode, as well. After all, it isn’t as if Swisher and Bourn will be elite producers in 2017, which makes building around the current roster to win in 2014 all the more realistic and necessary.

Apr 7, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So, after losing Scott Kazmir to the Oakland Athletics via free agency and, potentially, losing Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency, why would management think about dealing Justin Masterson without having signed another top-of-the-rotation arm? Kazmir, Jimenez, and Masterson combined to go 37-28 in 90 starts, covering 533.2 innings for the Indians in 2013. While Danny Salazar looked electric and fabulous in his ten starts, he isn’t ready for a 200-inning workload just yet, and it seems reasonable to question Corey Kluber as your Opening Day starter with Salazar, Zach McAllister, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco filling in the remainder of the rotation. That group could rival the horrendous numbers that the 2013 Minnesota Twins starters accumulated (39-74, 5.26 ERA, 1.54 WHIP).

Then, you must question the return on a deal. Justin Masterson is a free agent after the 2014 season, so the team acquiring him likely won’t be including a Wil Myers-like prospect like the Tampa Bay Rays received last winter from the Kansas City Royals for two controllable years of James Shields; however, if the Indians are in talks with the Diamondbacks, Arizona GM Kevin Towers appears willing to toss aside valuable young pieces, verified by the Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, and Adam Eaton deals over the last year. But, again, if the Tribe was lucky enough to acquire Archie Bradley, the Diamondbacks’ top prospect, how many innings could Cleveland get out of him if they are contending? Should the club rely on another young, unproven arm with a goal of winning in 2014?

I have long questioned locking up Masterson to ace-like numbers, but if the Indians are able to lock him up for five-years, $75 million in this market, it seems like a great idea. When you consider that a declining Tim Lincecum received a two-year, $35 million, paying Masterson an average annual value of $15 million is very reasonable.

The Indians would be wise to re-think dealing their incumbent ace – unless, of course, they are taking their 92-win season and running towards another rebuild, which may be worse for the fan-base than an Indians club without 3/5 of their 2013 rotation.

The Indians need Justin Masterson more than any other arm or position player. Unless GM Chris Antonetti has a magic trick up his sleeve that will allow him to pull three solid pitchers out of no where, dealing Masterson would be a masterful failure.