The GM's Office: Justin Masterson

Top 10 early trade candidates 

May, 12, 2014
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David PriceKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsIn what has become a yearly refrain, David Price should be on the July 31 deadline trading block.
The July 31 trade deadline is a little less than three months away. While every team is focused primarily on the draft right now, they’re also realizing that because of the sport’s parity and competitive balance, there could be fewer “sellers” at this year’s deadline than perhaps we’ve seen in decades.

In fact, there are just three teams more than 4 games out of the postseason: the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks.

I expect that group of teams to grow between now and the middle of July, but it will be no larger than more than seven or eight teams. With so few sellers expected, the asking prices for top talent will be exorbitant.

Here is my early list of 10 trade candidates to watch:

1. David Price | LHP | Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are hoping to be in a pennant race come the end of July, but after the season-ending injury to Matt Moore and a below .500 start, Price will have to be considered the early most sought after trade candidate in baseball. General manager Andrew Friedman knows that he’ll get more value for Price at the July trade deadline than he will in the offseason with only one year left on Price’s contract.

Further hurting Friedman's leverage is the fact that Price is off to a slow start, and he'll be hoping to get a haul similar to the one he received for James Shields prior to the 2013 season.

Elite pitchers set for big 2015 paydays 

January, 21, 2014
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Max ScherzerLeon Halip/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw's contract could lead to a $200 million payday for Max Scherzer next winter.
Clayton Kershaw's seven-year, $215 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers has set the ceiling for next offseason's free-agent starting pitching market. This is a significant event for a market that’s seen record-breaking deals for almost every top-tier pitching free agent over the past several years.

While the 2015 free-agent class is light on position players, it has plenty of elite pitchers, led by Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Homer Bailey. None of them are expected to top Kershaw's deal; it probably will be the next generation of Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey to do that.

Nonetheless, Scherzer, Shields, Lester, Masterson and Bailey should all benefit from Kershaw and his agent, Casey Close, eclipsing the $30 million bar because that will only bring their deals closer to that threshold. Here is a quick look at the top of next year's free-agent starting pitching class with my early contract predictions and the chances of each pitcher leaving his current team:




1. Max Scherzer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Predicted contract:
Seven years, $196 million ($28M average annual value)

As soon as Kershaw closed his deal with the Dodgers, Scherzer quickly became the No. 1 starting pitcher expected to hit the free-agent market next November.

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2015 FAs who should be traded now 

December, 20, 2013
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Chase Headley Mike McGinnis/Getty ImageThe tough competition in the NL West should force the Padres to trade Chase Headley.
Next year’s free-agent class is top-heavy, and features three of baseball’s best starting pitchers in Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. While seen some big-name players traded a year before free agency, that won't happen with any of these guys because their teams have a shot at the World Series and they all play for big-market clubs that can afford to re-sign them.

In fact, don't be surprised if these guys get contract extensions before hitting the market next winter, with Kershaw being the most likely of the three to get a new deal.

However, there are five players who will be eligible for free agency next fall who probably should have already been traded since they haven’t been locked up to multiyear deals. Some of these players are on contending teams, but none of which are large markets and really can’t afford to let them walk as a free agent and receive only a draft pick as compensation.

Here is the breakdown of the five players I think should be traded by Opening Day if they are not given a contract extension.

1. Chase Headley, 3B | San Diego Padres
Headley, 29, had 31 doubles and 31 homers in 2012 and finished in the top five in NL MVP voting. His power numbers were down this year (.400 slugging), but he still plays a position where there is a lot more demand than supply and could fetch a lot in a trade.

The Angels, Dodgers, Marlins and Yankees all started the offseason with needs at third base and could have matched up well in a deal for the Padres, though the Angels and Dodgers have patched that hole for at least the next couple of years with David Freese and Juan Uribe, respectively.

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What a difference one offseason can make.

On May 22, 2012, the Cleveland Indians found themselves atop the American League Central, sporting a surprising 23-18 record. Today, the Indians again sit in first place with an equally surprising 26-18 record.

But the Indians are a completely different team in 2013.

They’ve been the best story in the AL this season. Outside of the New York Yankees' cast of reclamation projects, the Indians arguably have been the most fun team to watch in the league. New manager Terry Francona has injected the franchise with his positive energy and motivational skills. His championship-winning background earned him instant respect and credibility, from the players all the way to the front office. Teaming with general manager Chris Antonetti and president Mark Shapiro, the trio did a good job of addressing most of the team's needs.

So it is nearly June, and the Indians lead the division favorite Detroit Tigers by a game and a half. Indians fans should enjoy it while they can. Despite the team being significantly better than last season’s squad, it simply does not have enough starting pitching to keep pace with the Tigers in the AL Central. And without some extra pitching help, the Indians can’t even be considered a legitimate wild-card contender.


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5 bold predictions for winter meetings

November, 30, 2012
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R.A. DickeySteve Mitchell/US PresswireJim Bowden thinks the New York Mets will end up trading R.A. Dickey at the winter meetings.

Despite my being a veteran of countless winter meetings, baseball's annual gathering still manages to surprise me. Whether it's a blockbuster trade or an out-of-the-blue free-agent signing, the winter meetings always provide a handful of happenings.

However, experience does offer me a little insight into what could happen. Last year, we saw the Los Angeles Angels reel in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and the Miami Marlins signed Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell. And, well, we know how that turned out. So here are my five bold predictions for the winter meetings:

1. The New York Mets will trade R.A. Dickey

With the Mets extending third baseman David Wright for eight years for about $138 million, I expect them to then turn around and trade right-hander R.A. Dickey to the Kansas City Royals or the Los Angeles Dodgers or Angels for two good prospects. Wright is the face of their franchise, their version of Chipper Jones or Derek Jeter, and it was essential they get him locked up. With the Tampa Bay Rays’ extension of Evan Longoria this past month and the Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman sewn up, as well, this was a relatively simple negotiation for general manager Sandy Alderson. In regards to Dickey, it’s more about selling high on an overachieving pitcher and being realistic on when the Mets will be ready to contend. Although the public thinks it could be sooner, realistically, the Mets won’t be contending until at least 2015.



2. The Cleveland Indians will make more trades than any other team

The Indians are waiting for the top free agents to sign. Once that happens, teams that lose out will be calling them to make deals. The Indians have the highest-quality tradable players currently on the market. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is one of the most underrated right fielders in baseball. He’s a complete player and is about to enter his free-agent walk year. He is represented by Scott Boras, which means it’s unlikely he’ll sign a contract extension before testing the open market. Therefore, once Josh Hamilton, Cody Ross and Nick Swisher have inked deals, the clubs that missed out will attempt to trade for Choo.

Several teams are pursuing shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics. If anyone of those teams puts together the right package of young starting pitching, it might be able to pry him loose. Closer Chris Perez is well respected throughout the game as a straight shooter who speaks his mind without filter, which is fine unless you’re always bashing the ownership, the front office and the fans. His trade value is at an all-time high, and now is the best time to get the best return. With starting pitching always at a premium, the Tribe also will listen to offers for Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. The bottom line is the Indians will be an interesting team to watch in Nashville.


3. The Miami Marlins will sign a free agent and give him a full-no trade clause

The Marlins’ trades of Buehrle, Reyes and Bell this offseason have left agents with such a bad taste in their mouths that many of them are saying they won’t even talk to the Marlins on behalf of their clients. Interestingly, a year ago, the Marlins all but had Albert Pujols signed, but their refusal to include a no-trade clause allowed him to make the right choice and sign with the Angels. If he had signed with the Marlins, he probably would be with the Toronto Blue Jays today. The Marlins are under scrutiny from the commissioner’s office and the players' association to spend rather than pocketing what look to be significant revenue-sharing gains the next few years. The Marlins need to step up and surprise baseball by adding a significant free agent and will have no choice this time but to change their policy and give a full no-trade clause so players they sign won’t have to worry about being dealt in a year.


4. The Royals will finally trade for an elite starter, and fans will rebel

Royals general manager Dayton Moore is in a Catch-22 situation. Royals fans have been begging for the team to trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter instead of their continued plan of back-of-the-rotation innings eaters such as Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Ervin Santana and Luke Hochevar. But it will cost Moore one of the young, talented position players he has. Moore definitely feels the pressure and is doing everything possible to make such a trade this coming week in Nashville. Even though I think the best move would be to sign a free agent such as Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez and keep his position players intact, I predict that the Royals are going to trade Wil Myers, Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer to get their top-of-rotation young starter. If and when they do this, Royals fans will show their disapproval. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


5. The Texas Rangers will re-sign Josh Hamilton to a four-year contract

Some believe Hamilton and Rangers definitely will part ways, but I'm making the bold prediction that he'll stay. Despite all the reports that the Rangers won't go more than three years on a deal for Hamilton, I fully expect them to give him a fourth year with a club option for a fifth at an average annual value of approximately $23 million. There has been interest in Hamilton from several teams, including the Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, and Baltimore Orioles.

His family lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and plans to stay there regardless. Having been to two World Series in the past three years, Hamilton and the Rangers have unfinished business of bringing a world championship to Rangers fans, and both parties know the best way to accomplish that is for them to try again together rather than apart.
Grady SizemoreAP Photo/Mark DuncanGrady Sizemore's return has provided a big boost -- offensively and defensively.
The Cleveland Indians were quiet this past offseason. No sexy free-agent signings, no wheeling and dealing. When I arrived to Indians camp in spring training, I spent considerable time with rookie GM Chris Antonetti and second-year manager Manny Acta. Both were convinced that if everything went as planned the Indians could contend as early as this season -- even though this was a team that hadn’t had a winning record since 2007 and had lost 93 games in 2010 and 97 in 2009. Contending? Really? How?

Antonetti, one of the youngest and brightest GMs in baseball, broke it down this way for me on that hot Arizona March day: "To contend we need the following to happen: (1) We need our key players to get healthy, specifically Grady Sizemore, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner; (2) We need our other young players on the roster to continue their development with meaningful contributions on the field. This list of players includes Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Chris Perez, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and our young bullpen arms; (3) We need our veterans to contribute and provide leadership on the field and in the clubhouse, including Orlando Cabrera, Sizemore and Hafner."

Check, check and check, Mr. Antonetti.

This Indians team is not only contending but has the best record in the American League. Are they for real? Yes, they’re for real. I’m not saying they’re going to win the division, but what I am saying is that if they stay healthy, this team will contend into September and should win more games than they lose. The main reason this team is for real is the pitching and defense. The starting pitching is solid, the bullpen underrated and the infield defense is the best the Indians have seen since Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Travis Fryman played together.

[+] EnlargeJosh Tomlin
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJosh Tomlin is 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP through six starts this season.
The starting rotation is led by Fausto Carmona, who won 13 games last year and is capable of winning 13-16 again this season. Masterson, one of the pitchers acquired in the Victor Martinez trade with Boston, is emerging as a solid No. 2 behind Carmona. Masterson has great size and stuff. His four-seam fastball goes up to 97 mph while the two-seamer sits between 89-94. He mixes in a slider and change from a deceptive lower arm angle and has great downward bite. His command in the lower part of the strike zone has improved due to the fact he solidified his delivery. Most importantly, Masterson continues to develop the understanding of how to best utilize his stuff to attack left-handed hitters, a weakness throughout his career. Masterson has quickly become one of the better pitchers in the league, starting 5-0 with a 2.11 ERA.

Carrasco just spent time on the DL for the first time in his career, but the Indians are not concerned as he is set to return to the rotation this week. In my discussions with Shin-Soo Choo, Santana and Acta, they raved about Carrasco’s potential. They think he’ll develop into a 15-game winner. That brings us to Josh Tomlin, who wins everywhere he goes. His minor league career record is 54-21 and his major league career record is 10-5, including 4-1 this year. Here is Antonetti’s scouting report on Tomlin that he gave me this week: "Great competitor. Won’t beat himself. Pounds the zone. Good four-pitch mix. Understands how to pitch and get hitters out." No argument from me. He might not chalk up a lot of strikeouts each night, but he’ll get the groundballs and get the outs to win games.

That brings us to the infield defense. When you have a rotation that pounds the lower part of the strike zone, but doesn’t always miss bats, then you better catch the ball in the infield with range. This infield catches the ball with range. Jack Hannahan, the journeyman infielder, has done a tremendous job defensively at third base, catching everything with soft hands and an accurate arm. Asdrubal Cabrera is quickly becoming one of the best all-around shortstops in the American league, a very good offensive and defensive shortstop with power, quick hands and feet and a strong arm from the hole. He also has great baseball instincts. He exchanges the ball from glove to release as quickly as anyone. Orlando Cabrera was the one major free-agent signed by Antonetti this offseason and here’s his assessment of Cabrera: "He has made an impact both on the field and in the clubhouse. He has great baseball intelligence and understands what it takes to win." In fact, it seems wherever Cabrera goes his teams win (see: Reds, Twins, Red Sox).

Behind the plate Santana has helped lead the Indians' staff to the third-best ERA in the AL. He has well above-average arm strength and eventually will be able to stop the running game when he gets more experience. He’s off to a slow start with the bat, but he can hit and hit with power from both sides of the plate. He’s a legit future All-Star.

The outfield defense matches the infield defense. Choo is one of the best right fielders in baseball. He gets great jumps, angles on balls and has a strong arm. He can also hit and hit with power. Sizemore is back diving for baseballs and Brantley covers everything in left field like a center fielder. Not a lot of balls are going to be falling in the the gaps at Progressive Field this summer.

The Indians' starting pitchers are pitching deep into games, their offense has put up quality at-bats and has manufactured runs in a variety of ways, thanks to the shrewd managing of Acta, and the bullpen has done a great job of closing games when they get leads as closer Chris Perez has saved 10 of 11 opportunities while Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Rafael Perez all have ERAs under 2 setting him up.


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