Generally, contract negotiations are kept quiet while agents and the General Manager haggle with millions of dollars on the line. Justin Masterson, however, is throwing convention away, and openly discussing his attempt to sign a long-term contract with the media. What makes this particularly interesting is that rather than making a ridiculous request, such as Robinson Cano asking the Yankees for $300M last season, Masterson is asking for something that is equal to or below market level.
After Homer Bailey (a very similar player statistically to Masterson) signed a six season, $105M extension to stay with the Reds, it looked like Masterson could command the same amount or more this off-season. The Indians, however, disagreed and made it clear they would not be giving any player a contract worth near $100M at this point (the highest contract in team history was Travis Hafner's four year, $57M deal).
Taking this in stride, Masterson has offered to take a significant risk and only sign for three or four years, possibly costing himself as much as $60M if something negative happens within that period. According to Paul Hoynes, Masterson would be willing to take a three year deal for $40M ($13.3M per year) or a four year deal for $60M ($15M per year), slightly less per season than the amount given to Bailey ($17.5M per year). This is the first time in recent memory that a player for the Indians (or any other team, really) has offered to take such a large discount in order to meet the team's budget.
Masterson has been with the Tribe since being traded from Boston for Victor Martinez prior to the 2010 season and grown both to like playing for the Indians and playing under manager Terry Francona. It is this loyalty, very rarely seen by athletes, that could make it possible for him to stay in town. It is understandable that a small market club would not want to make a $100M+ commitment and Masterson has put the ball back into the Tribe's court (to use a phrase from a different sport).
If you hadn't noticed, pitching has gotten very expensive. Unproven, young pitchers are being paid tens of millions even while still in arbitration and Masahiro Tanaka, almost a complete unknown, signed for $155M this off-season with New York. The best of the best, Clayton Kershaw, just signed a deal worth more than $200M and even washed up, overweight veterans like Bartolo Colon can command $10M per year. Taking these numbers in consideration, it is obvious that the Indians will likely never have an opportunity again to sign (or retain) an ace for less than $15M per season.
Masterson is giving the Indians an amazing opportunity here. They can bring him back for three seasons (his age 30 through 32 years) at a discounted value and allow him to risk signing being able to sign a deal at 33 years old. Masterson could still benefit by the rapid inflation in baseball and the Indians would finally send a message to their fans that they actually want to win. The Indians have almost been playing in a different league as far as contracts are concerned the past few years, acting when the signed Nick Swisher, an average player from the AL East, like they had just brought in Miguel Cabrera and now they have the opportunity to change that perception just a little bit. No, Masterson is not ever going to be the next Felix Hernandez, but he is the best pitcher that Cleveland has seen since Cliff Lee left. In fact, signing Masterson even for the short term would go a long way in making Indians fans forget that both Lee and Sabathia were traded the season after winning the Cy Young.
Sixty million dollars may still seem a little too deep for the Dolans, but if they can't afford that now, the Indians will never be able to afford to compete for a championship again, without external help (like a hard salary cap). Also, the generally loyal Cleveland fan base has never fully returned since being alienated during the abrupt dismantling of the 1990's teams in 2001 and 2002. Since then, every single superstar to come out of the Indians system has done so elsewhere. This time, things can be different. After selling out the stadium for almost a decade, Progressive Field is now one of the lowest draws in the league. Showing no loyalty to Masterson after he is making such a big concession and showing no attempt to compete at the Major League level is not the way to bring those fans back into the fold.
How much longer will Masterson be rocking the 'C' on his cap?