Masterson talks likely shelved until offseason
Antonetti says Indians prefer not to negotiate during regular season
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There was one more meeting scheduled on Friday morning for the Indians to discuss Justin Masterson's contract situation. General manager Chris Antonetti wanted to sit down with the pitcher to speak face to face about the stalled negotiations.
Masterson wanted to make it clear that there were no hard feelings.
"I gave him a hug," Masterson said with a smile Friday afternoon. "And we shook hands. It was cordial."
Cleveland had engaged in extension talks with Masterson throughout the offseason and into the spring, but the process ended Thursday after the Indians informed the pitcher's agent, Randy Rowley, that they were unable to align on a contract. There will be no more negotiations this spring, making it more than likely that Masterson will hit the open market as a free agent next winter.
Antonetti met with reporters on Friday morning to field questions about the issue, and Masterson addressed the situation after logging six innings in the Tribe's 14-3 victory over the Rockies in the afternoon. Both the GM and the All-Star starter expressed that none of this meant the door was entirely closed on a multi-year contract.
"At this point," Antonetti said, "we both agreed to table discussions on a multi-year contract and potentially revisit it down the road. But, right now, our focus will be on preparing for the season."
Antonetti reiterated that Cleveland's preference was not to negotiate contracts during the regular season. While things could change -- the Indians have announced multi-year deals during the season in the past -- the Indians and Masterson will most likely wait until next offseason to resume discussions.
Masterson said he had no issue with picking up talks during the season.
"If things change," Masterson said, "whether or not on our end or their end, hey, why not? It's not like it's going to bother me. And they're not playing, so it's not like it's going to bother them too much. You don't want it to be a distraction, but if it's not, then the doors are always open."
Masterson showed willingness this spring to sign a contract in the three- or four-year range in an effort to make things easier for the Indians. It is believed that the pitcher was seeking an annual salary above last offseason's qualifying offer ($14.1 million) and below what Homer Bailey will earn annually ($19 million) in the five free-agent years covered in the six-year, $105-million deal Bailey signed with the Reds.
Antonetti said Bailey's contract was one comparison used during negotiations but that the Indians also pointed to other extensions.
"We were very cognizant of that contract," Antonetti said, "but there are others. I feel like we made an earnest attempt to get something done and offered Justin a contract that was fair relative to the marketplace."
One factor the Indians are keeping in mind is future payroll obligations. Cleveland, whose payroll maxed out around $80 million in the past few seasons, has roughly $48 million already committed for 2015 and $44 million for '16. That does not include the list of players who will be eligible for arbitration in that timeframe.
"That's a consideration," Antonetti said. "I think the thing that we want, and I know Justin wants, is to be a part of a championship-caliber team. So what we need to do is look at how we fairly compensate players, but fit them within the constructs of what we expect our payrolls will be moving forward."
Antonetti added that future payroll was not "an obstacle, but a consideration. We made an earnest effort to try to get something done. I'll stay away from the specifics of things, but we made a very competitive offer within the marketplace for contract extensions for starting pitchers."
Masterson added that he was understanding of the process from the Tribe's perspective.
"You look at it, and you have the years here and there," Masterson said, "but there's also the amounts that are out there. Although you're taking less years, where do you put the amounts to make it fair? So, is it still fair? You're giving up a couple things. You're just working through all that.
"And, though it might be giving up some things on my end, there's still tough things that they have to work through on their end. They've got to run a ballclub. They've got to do a lot of things. If we go win a World Series, I think things could work out pretty good."
Indians manager Terry Francona said he did not think the halted talks would negatively affect Masterson, but he did say that some of the pitcher's teammates would probably be upset.
"I bet you they will be," Francona said. "I think they all like him and, shoot, I think Chris wanted to get it done, or they wouldn't have tried. I think that's the whole idea, but it doesn't carry over. It doesn't mean a guy's not going to win. That's the way the game is, and that's why they kind of set a deadline of, 'Let's not let this go into the season.'
"I think realistically, you probably can't sign everybody that you want to, or everybody would be signed."
Masterson, whose 29th birthday is Saturday, went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings for the Indians last season. The sinkerballer made his first American League All-Star team and ended the season with a team-high 195 strikeouts. He has gone 44-55 with a 4.08 ERA in parts of five seasons with Cleveland.
During Friday's outing against Colorado, Masterson surrendered two runs on five hits and ended with six strikeouts, two walks and two wild pitches. The two runs were the first allowed by Masterson in his 19 Cactus League innings, during which he has piled up 20 strikeouts against four free passes.
Masterson has looked more than ready to make his third Opening Day start for Cleveland.
"I think you're seeing a little more power to his fastball," Francona said. "He's doing good. He's on track."
And Masterson does not sound too worried about his future.
"We tried hard; we enjoy each other," Masterson said. "But, at this moment, we can't necessarily make it happen. That's fine. We'll continue to go through the season. The doors are technically closed, but they all have doorknobs that you can at one point open again."