Months removed from a postseason berth, the Cleveland Indians arrived at the winter meetings with an open mind. That philosophy includes listening to trade offers for the most valuable starting pitcher on their staff.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Cleveland is willing to listen to offers for Justin Masterson, hoping to elicit long-term options. Masterson, 28, is entering his final season before free agency.
With former Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez currently on the free-agent market, Cleveland would risk losing 40 percent of their 2013 rotation if a trade commenced for Masterson. Few 92-win teams would be comfortable losing almost 400 innings of excellent pitching, but Cleveland understandably doesn't want to be in the position of losing Masterson for nothing next winter.
This past season, the Indians ace posted a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings. If Cleveland does pull the trigger on a Masterson trade, it would be for players under team control for significantly longer than one year.
Yet, the ability to help sooner, rather than later, is also key.
With American League Manager of the Year Terry Franconca in the dugout, and a core of talented everyday players like Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana, Cleveland isn't in rebuilding mode.
Which teams match up with Cleveland's demands?
Here are the best potential trade packages and landing spots for Justin Masterson.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers is one of the most aggressive executives in the sport. After swapping Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton in a deal to acquire power-hitting outfielder Mark Trumbo, the team is now in pursuit of starting pitching, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
One year ago, Cleveland and Arizona matched up on a three-way deal that netted the Indians a highly touted prospect, Trevor Bauer. Similarly, Cleveland would love to swap Masterson for Archie Bradley, but that price is too high for a player one year from free agency.
Instead, a two-for-one emerges that would satisfy the needs of both clubs.
First, the starters. Trevor Cahill isn't as good as Justin Masterson, but their similar skill sets would make this swap palatable for Cleveland's rotation. According to Fangraphs, the two sinker specialists have nearly identical ground ball rates over the last five years. Masterson has generated 56.5 percent of batted balls into grounders. Cahill's rate is 55.3 percent.
Although Masterson has pitched to a better xFIP since 2009 (3.78 to 4.11), Cahill actually leads in raw ERA by similar margin (4.12 to 3.89). According to Baseball-Reference, Cahill has been the more valuable pitcher, leading in WAR by a 11.7 to 8.6 margin.
Due to a team-friendly deal, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, signed while in Oakland, Cahill is under control through the 2015 season, but could be denied free agency until after 2017, assuming two option years are picked up for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Masterson is probably the superior pitcher, but the gap isn't big enough to offset their similarities and cost-effectiveness of Cahill's deal.
The second piece of this puzzle, David Hernandez, is an underrated reliever that has struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings since arriving in Arizona prior to the 2011 season. After releasing Chris Perez and watching Joe Smith sign with the Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland can use a powerful arm for Terry Francona's bullpen.
If Cleveland moves Masterson, along with allowing Ubaldo Jimenez to venture into free agency, receiving back a capable starting pitcher would be ideal, but not imperative.
According to MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm, the Toronto Blue Jays are in pursuit of starting pitching. After watching their rotation pitch to a combined ERA of 4.81, per ESPN, that offseason mandate shouldn't be surprising to Blue Jays fans.
Due to a lack of reliable rotation options and depth, Toronto doesn't have young, controllable pitching to sacrifice in a deal for a veteran. Instead, they have an abundance of offense. According to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, the Jays are offering Colby Rasmus in exchange for a starter.
If Toronto is willing to sacrifice a position player for an impact starter, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti should inquire about 23-year-old third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Although injuries have impacted his progression to stardom, Lawrie has the potential to blossom into a two-way contributor at the hot corner. Acquiring him would set up the Indians to boast an infield, from left to right, of Lawrie, top prospect Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.
Four potential All-Star infielders, all 27 or younger and signed through at least 2016, would make Cleveland the envy of baseball executives.
Of course, Lawrie is more valuable in a trade than Masterson. Thus, Cleveland would kick in their own young third baseman, Lonnie Chisenhall. Despite a lower ceiling than Lawrie, Chisenhall is a 25-year-old former first-round pick.
Toronto might be more apt to sign a pitcher like Jimenez or Matt Garza in free agency, but if they balk at the exorbitant prices on the open market, they could be desperate enough to include Lawrie in this potential package.
When news of Justin Masterson's trade market exploded, the Yankees understandably became suitors due to their need for rotation help. According to Buster Olney of ESPN, there are currently no legs to a potential swap between New York and Cleveland.
It will stay that way until the Yankees think outside of the box.
After signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to long-term contracts, New York has an expendable outfielder, Brett Gardner. Due to the presence of Michael Bourn in Cleveland, along with Garnder's impending free agency next winter, Cleveland likely isn't interested in New York's top asset.
A three-way trade, netting New York the services of Masterson and Cleveland a younger, controllable player, is possible, but unlikely.
Instead, New York could look to move away from the uncertainty of Ivan Nova in exchange for the polished Justin Masterson.
Last season, Nova emerged into a second-half monster, helping to keep the Yankees in a postseason race by posting a 2.59 ERA from July 5 through the end of the season. At the age of 26, and under team control until 2017, he's the kind of pitcher New York can build around.
Yet, uncertainty exists. Prior to that run of dominance that began in July, Nova was sporting a 4.63 ERA and had allowed 56 baserunners in 35 innings. In 2012, he pitched his way out of the rotation with a 5.02 ERA in 170.1 innings.
For a Yankees franchise constantly in pursuit of October baseball, Nova represents a wild card. If he's the pitcher he was in the second half of 2013, swapping him for Masterson is foolish. If he's not, the trade makes sense for New York.
From Cleveland's perspective, the deal is too good to pass up. Nova's potential could make him a cheap American League All-Star down the line. Even if doesn't progress past his 2013 form, there's a chance he's better than Masterson in 2014. According to Fangraphs, their FIP marks were almost identical last season.
New York would still need to acquire another pitcher, but that arm could be significantly cheaper if a pitcher of Masterson's ilk was slotted into the rotation behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.
For this idea to become reality, two separate scenarios would have to come together at once: A.J. Burnett would have to spurn one more year in Pittsburgh for retirement, and the Pirates would have to believe they are a veteran arm away from a championship.
If Burnett leaves, and the Pirates think replacing him could lead to a parade in Pittsburgh, the Indians would be crazy not to propose this deal. Unlike the other scenarios presented, Taillon does not have major league experience, but his potential is oozing with the possibility of stardom.
Over the last three years, Taillon, the former No. 1 draft pick has been ranked in the top 20 of Baseball America's prospect rankings. Last season, he built his innings up to 147.1 between Double and Triple-A. At the age of 22, he's ready for a shot at a big league rotation.
This swap would be similar to Cleveland acquiring Trevor Bauer from Arizona last winter. Within a few years, the Indians could boast a trio of strikeout machines in Bauer, Taillon and Danny Salazar. All three are currently 23 or younger.
From Pittsburgh's perspective, they would sacrifice a major future rotation piece, but give their franchise a chance to compete for a World Series in 2014. Without acquiring a replacement for Burnett, it's hard to imagine another October run from the Bucs.
Should the Indians deal Justin Masterson? Leave your best trade proposal below!
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