While Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales are still free agents as February comes to a close, the rest of Major League Baseball is in the full swing of spring training.
For now, most of the MLB rumor mill is filled with trade speculation and talks about possible contract extensions. Looking around the league, there are a few legit starting pitchers who are trying to be locked by their teams long term.
Here's a look at a trio of quality hurlers who are in discussions with their respective clubs about new deals or are expected to be in the near future.
RHP Max Scherzer
Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski shook up the core of his team this offseason, and it looks like there were several moves made with an extension for Max Scherzer in mind.
The reigning American League Cy Young winner is set to become a free agent following the 2014 season, unless the Tigers can lock him up to an extension before then. But with super agent Scott Boras representing him, history says Scherzer is a prime candidate to test his worth on the open market.
But that hasn't stopped Dombrowski from putting his team in a position to make a serious run at Scherzer. The team shaved off about $76 million in payroll while trading away Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler earlier this offseason and dealt away another extension candidate in starter Doug Fister.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports offered the latest on the Scherzer contract talks.
No surprise, early indications are that locking him up won't be easy. There is said to have been little sign of common ground in previous confabs, with a major gap seen in preliminary discussions. Though the trend is that all teams lock up its ace pitchers, and Detroit's M.O. in this regime always has been to secure all its best players, it may take a late March miracle to keep Scherzer, 29, from becoming baseball's biggest free agent next winter.
Scherzer has been mum with the media on the topic, though, telling Heyman, "I'm just not going to get into it, really. That's between me and the Tigers.”
Following an offseason when Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka secured a seven-year, $155 million deal for the New York Yankees and National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million extension, you can be sure Boras and Scherzer saw the dollar signs.
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has a history of opening up his pockets for franchise players (see: Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera), and Scherzer is right up there in terms of importance to this team.
Then again, Heyman cites Tigers sources who say, "this is their toughest sign in years," so it will be interesting to see if they can lock him up by Opening Day. If not, don't expect Scherzer to let contract talks drag into the regular season, setting the stage for a big bidding war for his services next winter.
LHP Jon Lester
Joining Scherzer as another established veteran starter set to enter the final year of his contract in 2014 in Boston Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester.
According to Rob Bradford of WEEI in Boston, Lester's agents have landed in Florida, where the Red Sox hold their spring training.
Lester’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, arrived in town Thursday to meet with their Red Sox clients and perhaps team officials. It was unclear if the Levinsons' appearance in camp will signal talks regarding an extension for the Red Sox starter. The agents also represent Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and pitchers Rich Hill and Drake Britton.
Lester said Friday morning he was unaware if talks were going to kick off over the weekend, having met with the Levinsons Thursday night.
The Red Sox picked up the 30-year-old lefty's $13 million club option this winter after he went 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.29 WHIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio in 2013.
What makes Lester such an attractive extension candidate is his consistency and durability. Since 2008, Lester has averaged 205 innings and 32 starts per year while posting an 89-54 record, 3.65 ERA, 120 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 ratio.
General manager Ben Cherington has established a reputation of signing players to short deals with high average annual values in recent years, but for the most part those contracts have been offered to hitters.
It will be interesting to see how he and the front office view reliable starting pitching in a market where they are getting paid handsomely. Given his credentials, Lester figures to be in for a bigger deal than the four-year, $50 million-range contracts signed by this year's crop of top starters.
RHP Justin Masterson
The Cleveland Indians will be leaning heavily on Justin Masterson this year after losing 2013 starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.
Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer recently reported that Masterson and the club are in extension talks.
Masterson recently told Hoynes, “I figure somehow, someway I’ll end up still being here for a few more years,” which is an encouraging thing for Indians fans.
The two parties avoided arbitration earlier this offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal worth about $9.76 million, but Masterson's agent Randy Rowley told Hoynes that there is still an ongoing dialogue.
Over the past three seasons, Masterson has been a key contributor to the Cleveland rotation, posting a combined record of 37-35, with a 3.86 ERA, 100 ERA+, 1.31 WHIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio. Given Masterson's comments and Cleveland's need to retain a proven commodity in their rotation, look for a deal to be announced in the coming weeks before Opening Day.
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