PEORIA, Ariz. — Ace right-hander Justin Masterson is doing what he can to remain in Cleveland. Now, it’s the Indians’ turn.
Masterson’s agent Randy Rowley told numerous media outlets Tuesday night that his client, who could demand a lucrative, long-term contract as a free agent next year, is open to signing a shorter-termed, less expensive deal with the Indians.
Masterson, an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2013, confirmed as much Wednesday prior to Cleveland’s 8-5 win — its sixth straight — over the Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex.
Nothing is official yet, but it’s clear Masterson is not bent on squeezing the last dollar out of the cost-conscious Indians.
“We’re all in this together in a sense,” Masterson said. “You want to make sure it’s reasonable or fair. It doesn’t have to be (an) incredible record-setting (contract). ‘What is reasonable for the Indians?’ But also ‘What is reasonable for us.’ That’s where you’re trying to get to and where that is, that’s where we’re trying to negotiate to, to what we both think is something that’s fair.”
The two sides have been talking for months, with Masterson signing a one-year contract worth $9.7625 million to avoid arbitration in February. At that time, the pitcher said he was open to negotiating a contract extension during the spring and even into the regular season.
Masterson’s chances of returning to Cleveland in 2015 appeared slim when Reds pitcher Homer Bailey agreed to a six-year, $105 million deal. It was thought that Masterson’s camp would use that contract as a measuring stick for what the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder, who went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 32 games (29 starts), was worth.
“By default, (you look at it), especially if you see something great like that. I mean you gotta look at it,” Masterson said of Bailey’s deal. “But does that mean that’s what you want to have or that’s what you have to have or you have to go above and beyond that?”
It is expected that Masterson will sign for three to four years and command around $40-60 million. A deal looks imminent.
The negotiations don’t appear to be affecting Masterson, who is preparing for his second full season as Cleveland’s No. 1 starter. He’s still the same approachable, likable sort.
“I haven’t talked to him specifically, but I don’t see that this is tearing him up or making him nervous,” Francona said. “He’s going to be happy doing what he does anyway. He’s just going to be really rich or really, really rich.”
“I’ve got baseball to worry about,” Masterson said. “I’m not really worried about (contract negotiations). Some how, some way, they’ll take care of themselves. We did our homework and we’re smart and educated about it, but we’re here to play baseball, and that’s what I’m going to concentrate on. This other stuff will only take a little bit of my time.”
The relationship between Francona and Masterson is a strong one that began during the early stages of the pitcher’s career as a reliever in Boston. It’s clear there is more than simple mutual respect.
“If you want to find something negative to say about Masterson, you have to really dig, and then I’m not sure you can come up with something,” Francona said. “I mean, what’s there not to like about a guy who anchors your staff, throws lots of innings, is probably the nicest kid in the world and competes? He’s a great teammate, a great person, you could go on and on. That’s part of why he’s Masty, why everyone likes him so much.
“He’s the same, identical kid (he was in Boston). And I mean that as such a big compliment. He’s a big kid who wants to help other people out.”
The Indians would have little chance of signing Masterson without Francona as manager.
“That would be a big factor,” Masterson said. “I want to be here as long as Tito is here. I’m not saying anyone else can’t be good, but that does have an impact. That sets the tone for a team. It’s made it very comfortable.
“Bringing in Terry just solidifies the idea of how great a place this is. I think Cleveland’s starting to get on the radar a little bit, not just for this year, but potentially for years to come, and I’d love to be a part of it.”