The last time the Indians went to arbitration with any of their players some of you weren't born yet (1991), so I don't think I'm sticking out my neck too much by predicting that Masterson (and Brantley, Pestano, and Tomlin) will agree to contracts before arbitration hearings are held. Salary arbitration is one of the facets of the CBA that has worked spectacularly well, all but ending holdouts that used to be de rigeur in the days before arbitration was put in place.
However, there is something that is disconcerting. As Jason mentioned yesterday, the Indians and Masterson are very far apart on their arbitration numbers, with the Indians offering $8.05M and Masterson offering $11.8M. Perhaps the Indians' low number is designed to entice Masterson to sign a long-term contract, as this point is the last best time for a long-term deal to be signed. If Masterson is not signed to a long-term deal by the time the season starts, you might as well kiss him goodbye, as the player's risk goes down with every game played from then on. The reason a player would agree to a long-term deal before free agent is that there's a very real risk that his value will decrease before getting his six years of service time. But once there's a couple months' worth of starts between now and free agency, a player will more often than not take that risk in the hopes of maximizing their career earnings. So the next couple weeks will determine whether Masterson is wearing an Indians uniform in 2015.
With some of the arbitration eligibles agreeing to contracts, here's the latest 25-man/40-man roster:
(click to embiggen)
I have updated the arbitration estimates, particularly Masterson's, as I had estimated him at $8.5M (that isn't happening unless the Indians and Masterson actually go to arbitration). Assuming the Masterson's contract ends up around $10M, that would put the Opening Day payroll (25-man roster only) at just above $80M.
This brings up an interesting decision for the Indians. After Masahiro Tanaka signs, the three prominent starting pitchers still left on the market (Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza) should sign quickly. If you don't think Masterson will agree to an extension, do you try to sign one of those three (Jimenez would be the best bet given his connection with the team) with around $20M coming off the books next winter when Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera become free agents? Of course that might not be a realistic option given where the payroll is now, and I don't think any of the three free agents are in the long run better pitchers than Justin Masterson. If you have the money to spend on a free agent, extending Masterson would be a better use of it.
AL Central News
The Indians won't be the only club dealing with a pitcher one season away from free agency. Scherzer's deal seems to favor the number Masterson submitted ($11.8M).
The White Sox have signed all their arbitration-eligible players.
When I estimated Minnesota's starting lineup and bench, I was struck with how many possibilities there were with the lineups. Although that's probably a bad thing.
- Cleveland Indians prospects by the numbers
- Justin Masterson and the Indians are WAY far apart on arbitration figures
- Indians to watch in 2014: Jose Ramirez
- Cleveland Indians news and links, 1/18/14: Rzepczynski signs, plus other arbitration news
- 2014 Indians Prospects, Part II: Why you should care about prospects, and a 2013 review