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The Indians have a couple of impact players on the roster. Jason Kipnis, Justin Masterson, Carlos Santana, and Nick Swisher are all big players and are all important, but only one is the franchise.
Justin Masterson is the franchise. If Masterson were to be traded or leave via free agency, the starting rotation would be barren and void of starpower. He is the one player who will make or break the Indians season. The Tribe lost two key starters this off-season through free agency, and Masterson looks to provide some stability for Terry Francona and the Indians.
Masterson relies heavily on his sinkerball, which he threw an astonishing 49.4% of the time. Those sinkers resulted in a groundball percentage of 58%, which was the best in the league. He keeps the ball in the ballpark, which is another added benefit of a sinkerballer. He gave up only 11 home runs, which was tied for tenth best in the league. He also posted a shockingly high K/9 ratio of 9.09, which means he struck out a batter per inning. He was obviously one of the more effective pitchers in the league this year.
You may ask why I didn’t choose Jason Kipnis, who is obviously the runner up. You could realistically make a case for both sides. 2nd base, as many fantasy players know, is a relatively shallow position. Kipnis is arguably on the top tier of second basemen with Cano and Pedroia, and one more year of his performance will cement his spot in that tier. Kipnis is very young, and they have prospects who could come in and do a good enough job to make sure he would not be missed. The reason Masterson was picked was because of his position, starting pitcher. The Indians don’t have many options on the mound. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister, and the fifth spot is up for grabs. If Justin starts to mentor the young players, they can be scary good in a few years. Kluber was the subject of several articles on Fangraphs, the site was very impressed with his stuff. If Masterson were to disappear in the middle of the season, no doubt the rotation would suffer. Kluber and McAllister aren’t number one pitchers, and Danny Salazar does not have enough experience to become that guy just yet.
Since he is the most important player on the Indians, they need to keep him in Cleveland. His contract is up after this season, and the Indians don’t seem like they will be giving the pitcher big bucks. The arbitration case that they just settled, days before the arbitration hearing was set to begin. The result was a one year deal worth about $9.7625MM. Though it was definitely a good sign, the two sides were very far apart early on. This means that the Indians don’t value Masterson as high as they should, or that Masterson’s agent thinks that he is better, and worth more, than he actually is. I’m not going to try and decide who’s fault it is, because they are likely both at fault. The Indians did receive bad news today regarding Masterson’s future with the club. Homer Bailey signed a six year, $105MM contract extension. Bailey is almost identical to Masterson in many ways including, stats, age, and salary. The Indians were probably thinking somewhere in the $70MM – $80MM range for an extension, but the extension that Bailey signed will most likely jack up the price of an extension by at least $5MM.
Masterson is the most important player on the Indians for a variety of reasons, and the Indians better act quick, or, trade him, something Tribe fans would dread. The Indians need to do something fast, or things could spiral out of control with him. Perhaps a trade would be the best option, it all depends on what the Indians get in return. Or maybe, they could lock him up for another five years or so, something that Indians fans would love to see happen.
Justin Masterson and the Indians are at a crossroads, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Masterson is arbitration eligible, and the two sides have yet to reach an agreement and avoid arbitration.
Arbitration can get very nasty. Teams point out the flaws of players in order to pay less, and players point out how much that they mean to the team. Currently, the Indians and Masterson have the biggest difference in the majors at $3.75 MM. Luckily for the two sides, the arbitration case is scheduled for February 20th, which is still 17 days away, which means that they have 17 days to reach an agreement and avoid arbitration.
Justin Masterson submitted his offer for $11.8 MM. He was certainly the ace for all of 2013, and he established himself as one of the best in the division. The big righty is only 28 years old, and he went 14-10 in 2013 with an ERA of 3.45 and a WHIP of 1.202. Though his numbers are not eye-popping, he performed for the Tribe, and they were contenders because of him. Masterson was an All-Star in 2013, and he had three complete game shutouts, which was the most in all of baseball.
He relies on his sinkerball, and he throws it often and well. In 2013, he lead the league in ground ball percentage, as well as throwing the second highest amount of fastballs (sinkers). Fangraphs’ dollar sabermetric, which gives an amount for what they think a player would make in free agency, says that Masterson is worth $16.8 MM after the season he had.
The Indians haven’t been to arbitration with a player since 1991, but after submitting an offer of $8.05 MM, they are so far away, that 2014 could be the year. An arbitrator may agree with the Indians, because the salary Masterson submitted was more than double his salary in 2013, something nearly unheard of as far as it goes in arbitration. Masterson also suffered an injury at the end of the year, which is another reason that an arbitrator would side with the Indians. An arbitration has never awarded a player more than $10 MM, yet another reason that the Indians should be confident with their case.
The other option for the two sides is to work out a long term deal, like the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw did earlier this off-season. Masterson would definitely not get the $300 MM deal that Kershaw did, but he would probably get four or five years for around $50 – $70 MM.
The two sides both want and should agree to an amount before the arbitration, because, as I said before, they can get pretty ugly. Both sides mean business, and aren’t trying to put the other down, but they are both pointing out facts about the other side. So it can seem to the players like a team doesn’t appreciate them if they are pointing out all of their flaws, but it is truly a business thing, and players who wear their feelings on their sleeve should try to avoid it.
The Indians should work hard to avoid arbitration at all costs, and they should not ruin the relationship with their ace pitcher, as they will have to work to re-sign the pitcher at the end of the season.
UPDATE: 4:10PM ET
The Mariners have signed Scott Baker to a minor-league contract
Chris Cotillo of mlbdailydish.com reports that the Cleveland Indians and the Seattle Mariners are the favorites to land Free Agent Pitcher Scott Baker. According to a industry source, there are 5-7 teams interested in Baker. He will likely make a desicion within the next few days.
Baker has been interested in signing a Major League contract, but will most likely settle with a Minor League contract that includes an inviation to spring training. “He is feeling better than he has for the past three years” says the source, “and will try to earn a starting role in the rotation in Spring Training with the team he decides to sign with.
The 32 year old pitcher made three Starts with the Chicago Cubs last seasons recording 6 earned runs in 15 innings after not playing for almost three years. Scott showed interest in returning with the Cubs but now likely heading back to the American Leagues with either Seattle or Cleveland.
In eight seasons with the Minnesota Twins (’05-’11) and Cubs (’13), Baker has a lifetime 63-48 record and 4.14 ERA in 166 major league appearances.
Even though I said I am a MiLB writer, I feel it is important to cover a few subjects in the MLB. Now I am going to talk about possible contract extensions.
Jason Kipnis, 2B for the Cleveland Indians, has publicly stated that he would be open to a contract extension with the club. This has led me to ask, who would be some good options for extensions and why? Well, unlike in the older days, players are opting to sign elsewhere and not sign an extension. The likes of Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols come to mind. But why? Because they get restless? No, its money. Hamilton was offered 3 years by the Rangers after the 2012 season, but he declined and instead signed for 5 years, 125 million. The years are so important because if you get 2 extra years, that is 2 more years of money. Cano did not get what he wanted, so he went to Seattle for 10 years, 240 million. But some stars do sign extensions, especially early in their careers. See Clayton Kershaw, who just signed an extension for 7 years, 210 million. He will be in LA for a long time to come. Now to ask- who else would be a good extension?
Jason Kipnis- Kipnis is only 26, and over the past couple of years has been a productive bat and baserunner. He had an average of .270/18/86 over the past 3 years. But a little known thing about Kipnis is that he stole an average of 32 steals per 162 games over 3 years. That means that, if he bats in the 2-hole, he can get into scoring position. Say, for example, he comes up with 1 out. Kipnis singles. Now, he successfully steals about 0.19 times per time he gets on base. So lets say he gets the bag. The chances of his team scoring now increase by 50%. That is Moneyball thinking, and it means Kipnis is the MVP of the Indians.
Nick Markakis- Markakis has been a solid, under-the-radar type of player in Baltimore. Originally drafted as a pitcher, he has constantly hit in the .290’s each year. His average slash line is .292/17/81, and he has an average of 39 doubles a year. From that alone he should get around 4 years, 48 million. But he is also a clubhouse guy. Markakis would be a great sign for the Orioles, and for Markakis too. Baltimore has less media pressure than Boston or New York.
Johnny Cueto- Cueto became a ace in 2012, getting 19 wins. But in 2013, he only got 5 wins and has some injury issues. Still, this shouldn’t affect his value because he averaged 14 wins and a 3.53 ERA over his career. Simply put, Cueto would be a great re-sign for the Reds and he would anchor the rotation for years to come, wherever he lands.
In the AL Central the five teams are the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and the Minnesota Twins.
Again the first place team in the central will be the Tigers. They have lost first base slugger Prince Fielder in a trade with the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler. They have also signed closer Joe Nathan and reliever Joba Chamberlain. Miguel Cabrera will be moving back over to first base. Even with the loss of Doug Fister they still have a dominant starting rotation.
For the second straight year the Cleveland Indians will finish in second. They haven’t made any huge moves in this off-season. If they can bring back Ubaldo Jimenez, and can pitch like he did with the Rockies, and in the second half last year they may have a chance at a wild card. They added veteran outfielder David Murphy and re-signed veteran Jason Giambi. Indians fans want Swisher, Kipnis, Santana, and Bourn to play to their potential.
The Chicago White Sox will go from last place in 2013 to third place in 2014. Jose Abreau the Cuban slugger will man first base this year. Paul Konerko said that 2014 is his last major league career, he might not get a ton of playing time with Abreau but will still perform capable to how he can play. The rest of their stars have to play like they did in 2012 when they came in second place. Last year the only good sign was pitcher Chris Sale.
In fourth place will be the Kansas City Royals. Adding right fielder Norichika Aoki and pitcher Jason Vargas will do better than last years players, but not good enough. Last year they came in third place and fifth for the AL Wild Card, and this year will be fourth place in the division. They lost the bidding war for Carlos Beltran to the Yankees but New York lost it for Omar Infante.
In last place will be the Minnesota Twins. The Twins added two starting pitchers in Phil Hughes, and Ricky Nolasco. They have star Joe Mauer moving over to first base. Josh Willingham has the potential to hit 30 plus home runs when he is healthy. If the Twins pitching holds up and guys like Mauer, Willingham, Dozier, and Nolasco play like the all-stars they can be than you may see they can land ahead of the Royals.