Masterson could become a trade target now or during the season after contract extension failed to develop.
After winning 92 games and a Wild Card berth in 2013, the last thing the Cleveland Indians would want to do is trade away staff ace Justin Masterson, who is currently the lone projected starter with at least one full big league season under his belt. If anything, they need to add another reliable starter to the mix.
But with the 28-year-old entering his last season before he can become a free agent and contract extension talks on hold, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a trade is something they should at least consider.
The wide $3.75 million gap in the salary proposals for the arbitration hearing to determine Masterson's 2014 salary—Masterson is asking for $11.8 million; the Indians are offering for $8.05 million—is also likely an indication of why talks didn't go very far.
If it has become clear that the All-Star right-hander doesn't fit into the team's long-term plans because his perceived value isn't anywhere near the organization's line of thinking, dealing him prior to Opening Day could be the best "big picture" move the team could make.
The Indians could deal him prior to the trade deadline, but only if the team was well out of playoff contention. With Masterson in the mix, this team is probably too good to fall into that scenario.
Of course, it would be unfathomable to think that the Tribe would deal Masterson now unless they could replace his production prior to the start of the season. In fact, manager Terry Francona tried to squash trade rumors earlier in the offseason by calling Masterson and telling him he wouldn't be traded, according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com.
But if a scenario presented itself that would allow the Indians to remain competitive in 2014 and beyond, Francona might have to go back on his word. That's why you never say "never." Signing Ervin Santana or re-signing Ubaldo Jimenez would qualify as one of these scenarios, as would a trade that involves a major league pitcher returning to Cleveland to go along with the signing of Bronson Arroyo.
Without either of those two combinations happening, the team would have an extremely difficult time holding up for a 162-game season.
Here are four teams that would likely be interested in Masterson and the potential trade packages that could land him.
The Baltimore Orioles have had an extremely quiet offseason, unless you think that the stockpiling of fringe candidates for their open left field and designated hitter jobs were exciting.
But they have been connected with quite a few free-agent pitchers in the rumor mill, most notably Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett (via Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun). And they could be interested in a one-year rental of a front-line starter like Masterson if they feel that the prices are too high on the free-agent market.
While they'd likely have to give up a talented young pitching prospect or two, such as Mike Wright (pictured) or Eduardo Rodriguez, in a trade package, it could be well worth it if Masterson can continue to pitch as he did in 2013 (3.45 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 9.1 K/9, 3 shutouts).
The O's also wouldn't have to surrender a draft choice as they would if they signed a free-agent starter, and they could gain a draft choice in 2015 if Masterson departs as a free agent after the season. For this reason, they could be more open to giving up Rodriguez, whom they've reportedly been unwilling to trade in past discussions.
Giving up Rodriguez and Wright, who are ranked as the team's third- and sixth-best prospects in the organization by Baseball Prospectus, would be quite a hit to the Orioles' farm system, but a drop back into fourth or fifth place in the AL East could be an even bigger step back for an organization that had 14 consecutive losing seasons before breaking the streak in 2012.
Trade proposal: Orioles get Justin Masterson, Indians get LHP Eduardo Rodriguez and RHP Mike Wright
Projected Orioles rotation with Masterson
1 Justin Masterson, RHP
2 Chris Tillman, RHP
3 Wei-Yin Chen, LHP
4 Bud Norris, RHP
5 Miguel Gonzalez, RHP/Kevin Gausman, RHP
Not only are the Los Angeles Dodgers set up to win in 2014, they have a strong farm system with a deep group of pitching prospects to go along with two very good hitting prospects, shortstop Corey Seager and outfielder Joc Pederson.
If the Indians were to give up Masterson, they would certainly ask about 17-year-old lefty Julio Urias, whom Baseball Prospectus ranked as the organization's top prospect heading into 2014 and who would very likely rank as the top pitching prospect with the Tribe.
Sending Urias, along with right-handers Chris Anderson (18th overall pick in 2013) and Stephen Fife, who would compete for a back-of-the-rotation spot in the Indians' rotation, could put the Dodgers in prime position to win it all in 2014.
Trade proposal: Dodgers get Justin Masterson, Indians get LHP Julio Urias, RHP Chris Anderson and RHP Stephen Fife
Projected Dodgers rotation with Masterson
1 Clayton Kershaw, LHP
2 Zack Greinke, RHP
3 Justin Masterson, RHP
4 Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP
5 Dan Haren, RHP
Just when you think the New York Yankees have finally gotten to the point where their constant "win-now" mentality is going to catch up to them because of their lack of prospects, they go out and prove why it's just not that important for them.
They always have much more room for error because of their ability to outbid opponents for top free agents.
And by adding four impact free agents this offseason, the handful of good prospects that they do have become blocked from the majors for at least the next few years, which allows them to become trade bait.
As long as the Yankees appear to be going all-out to win next season, they might as well finish the job by using that young talent to acquire another front-line starter.
To acquire Masterson, the Yankees would likely have to part with catcher Gary Sanchez, the team's top-ranked prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, and former top prospect Manny Banuelos, who is returning from October 2012 Tommy John surgery and could find himself in the Indians' rotation to start the season.
Trade proposal: Yankees get Justin Masterson, Indians get catcher Gary Sanchez and LHP Manny Banuelos
Projected Yankees rotation with Masterson
1 CC Sabathia, LHP
2 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
3 Justin Masterson, RHP
4 Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
5 Ivan Nova, RHP
The Toronto Blue Jays are the most talented team in baseball that nobody's talking about. And deservedly so after their disappointing 2013 season.
But that's what makes them so dangerous during the upcoming season.
Acquire one more reliable front-line starter like Masterson and they could be a serious threat in the AL East.
While their farm system was thinned out quite a bit after two blockbuster trades last season, they still have enough to land Masterson in his last year before he can become a free agent. They won't part with either of their top two pitching prospects, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, but they could use a number of solid close-to-big league-ready pitchers to entice the pitching-starved Indians.
Drew Hutchison, who debuted in the majors as a 21-year-old back in 2012, is returning from Tommy John surgery and could be ready to become a reliable mid-rotation starter in the majors. Lefty Sean Nolin, who had a 3.01 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.0 K/9 in Double-A last season, could also compete for a rotation spot in 2014.
Two back-of-the-rotation types for one year of a front-line starter might not be fair, but the Jays could even it out by including 19-year-old Alberto Tirado, the No. 3 prospect in the organization according to Baseball Prospectus, who is much further away from the majors but has top-of-the-rotation potential.
Trade proposal: Blue Jays get Justin Masterson, Indians get right-hander Drew Hutchison, left-hander Sean Nolin and right-hander Alberto Tirado.
Projected Blue Jays rotation with Masterson
1 R.A. Dickey, RHP
2 Justin Masterson, RHP
3 Mark Buehrle, LHP
4 Brandon Morrow, RHP
5 J.A. Happ, LHP