“For however long I’m here, I hope he’s here.”
Francona didn’t quite ask Masterson to “Be Mine” on Valentine’s Day, but the manager’s affection is apparent.
“For however long I’m here, I hope he’s here,” Francona said on Friday. “I think everybody feels that way. And Masty knows that. I’d be shocked if you asked Masty if he felt like he was respected here, if he said no.
“It’s just the economics of the game. That’s a side of it that’s difficult and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it.”
As has been well-documented, Masterson is eligible for arbitration this year in what is his last season prior to free-agent eligibility. That being the case, both the pitcher and the team have expressed an interest in a long-term deal. That said, talks have stalled and the focus right now is in Masterson’s 2014 contract.
If needed, Cleveland has a hearing scheduled for Thursday. If no settlement is reached before going before an arbitration panel, Masterson’s salary will either be $11.8 million (his request) or $8.05 million (Cleveland’s offer). GM Chris Antonetti would love nothing more than to avoid another hearing.
“I’ll always be optimistic,” Antonetti said. “We’re going to continue to negotiate with Justin. Again, our clear preference would be to negotiate an agreement. Hopefully, that’s possible in his case. If it’s not, there’s a mechanism in place to resolve it.”
Masterson’s situation is a tricky one, considering the current free-agent climate. If no extension is reached before next offseason (the pitcher said earlier this week that he’s willing to negotiation in-season, if necessary), a qualifying offer could come into play. If Masterson has an outstanding season, or even just a decent season, it’s a safe bet that Cleveland would offer the sinkerballer a one-year qualifying offer for 2015 in order to secure Draft-pick compensation.
There is always the chance that Masterson will pitch well enough to decline such an offer and net a lucrative long-term deal on the open market. Or, there is the possibility that he winds up in a situation like free-agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, two solid rotation arms that remain unsigned due to their attachment to Draft compensation. Masterson could accept a qualifying offer and have another platform year, or he could risk twisting in the wind by turning down such a deal.
What’s great for Cleveland is that, if any pitcher could handle such uncertainty hanging over their head, it’s the easygoing Masterson. This is, after all, the guy who will joke about his beard (or lack thereof) throwing off his mechanics after a bad outing, or bring up the positives of his wife’s cookie business after a tough loss. He knows some people are critical of his extremely happy-go-lucky personality, but it can certainly help keep his contract status from being a distraction.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Masterson, flashing his typical smile.
The Indians believe that is the case, too.
“He’s a pretty special kid. That’s the way he is,” Francona said. “He’s actually been that way since the day I met him, and I’m sure he was like that before I met him.”
Photo of the Day
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was buried in a heap of Twitter criticism after I posted an unflattering photo of him on Thursday. I can confirm that Kipnis is in great shape this spring, and he wanted to make sure everyone else knew it, too. During the workout today, he flexed for the camera as a message to any doubters.
Other items from Friday…
- The Indians had an arbitration hearing with pitcher Josh Tomlin on Friday. The right-hander was seeking $975,000 and the Indians offered $800,000. A decision on the pitcher’s 2014 salary is expected to arrive on Saturday. Tomlin spent most of last season coming back from Tommy John surgery and is a fifth-starter candidate this spring.
- Lefty reliever Josh Outman had a gut feeling he was about to be traded this offseason when he received an out-of-nowhere phone call from a member of the Rockies training staff. The same thing happened two winters earlier, and he was traded the next day by the A’s. Check on Friday’s notebook for more on Outman’s reaction to joining the Tribe.
- It’s only one mound session, but Francona said Trevor Bauer looked like a new pitcher. The manager said the difference was “night and day” compared to last year. More on this in the notebook, too.
- Also on Indians.com on Friday, a feature on Indians right-hander Danny Salazar, who will play an integral role this year.
- Francona was saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Fregosi on Friday morning. In 1997, Francona followed Fregosi as manager of the Phillies. Said Tito: “Anybody that’s been in a room with him, you can’t help but hear him. He just carried on conversations and was just so full of life. It’s not a very good way to start the morning when you come in and see that. … I know when I got to Philly, the veterans that were there loved him.”
- Position players are not required to report until Saturday, but Brohio is open for business in Arizona. Nick Swisher popped into the complex, and made sure to announce, “I’m here!” Physicals for position players are Sunday and the first full-squad workout is set for Monday.
- Francona has emphasized that the last thing he’s doing right now is evaluating pitchers during these early mound sessions: “We told those guys, specifically, yesterday, ‘When you see us walk behind the mound, we’re not evaluating. You’re getting your legs under you, you’re building your arm strength and you’re working on your mechanics.'”
- Francona said Minor League right-hander Bryan Price (right hamstring) was held out of Friday’s workout, but might be cleared to return to the field by Saturday. It’s a minor injury.
- On Feb. 25, Francona and a few staff members will attend a meeting on the new instant replay rules that go into effect this season. As for the home-plate collisions rule change, the manager hopes a decision comes soon: “It’s got to be soon. I know they’re havng a tough time with the language of the rule, which I understand. That’s part of why I was in favor of not having it. You would hope that it would be soon. It’s going to be different. In Spring Training, you don’t want somebody getting killed at the plate anyway, but if there’s going to be a rule change, you’d like to certainly be aware of it and stay ahead of it.”
Stay tuned for more…