Indians, Masterson shelve contract extension talks until end of season

In five Cactus League games, Masterson has given up only two runs and 11 hits while walking four and striking out 20 in 11 innings of work.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — A contract extension would have been the perfect gift for Justin Masterson, who turns 29 on Saturday. It also would have given the Indians a huge surge of momentum with 10 days until the opener at Oakland.

After extension talks broke off on Thursday night and no prospects of anything happening in the short term, both sides on Friday tried to stress that something could get done eventually.

To show how things remain amicable, Masterson said after the Tribe’s 14-3 win over Colorado that he gave general manager Chris Antonetti a hug and shook hands during a meeting that morning. He also stressed that even though the doors are technically closed, there are knobs on those doors that at one point can open again.

"Both sides made an earnest effort to find common ground but in the end we just weren’t able to align," Antonetti said. "There were times during the process when we felt like we were closer than others. But close doesn’t mean you get a deal done."

Antonetti did say that there were some parts that both sides were able to agree on. However neither side could come to an agreement on the right combination on structure, length and value.

The hurdle for the franchise remains Masterson’s market value. That was mostly set when Homer Bailey recently agreed to a six-year, $105 million extension with the Reds. The deal averages $17.5 million per season and there have been various reports that Masterson was willing to agree to slightly less.

Masterson and Bailey have similar career records but when you factor in that Masterson is already the ace of the Indians staff, appeared in last year’s All Star Game and is in line to start his third straight opener, the value could be more.

As Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said on Thursday night in his report about talks breaking off, a salary in the $17 million range would be one-fifth of the Tribe’s current payroll.

Masterson and the Indians avoided arbitration this year by agreeing to a $9.7625 million contract. Masterson had filed an arbitration figure of $11.8 million while the team countered at $8.05 million.

"You look at it and you have years here and there and the amounts. Even though you have less years where do you put the amounts to make it fair," he said. "You’re giving up a couple things but they still have a couple things they are working out on their end. They have a ball club to run and have to do a lot of things."

Antonetti said that Bailey’s deal was one of many that the Indians are factoring in with regards to Masterson.

"Even though something didn’t happen right now I’m not overly disappointed. We’ll just push it back a little bit," Masterson said. "I’m just going to go out, slice and dice and have some fun.

"We enjoy each other and we have some business things to work through. They’re not always going to meet up for each individual and we’ll continue to see how the season goes."

Terry Francona said there will be some early disappointment in the clubhouse, which might be surprising to some until you consider that the franchise has talked about what a great teammate and role model Masterson is on and off the field. For a clubhouse that could have anywhere from 8-11 players eligible for arbitration in the offseason, many might wonder what this means for them.

Francona added though that he doesn’t think there will be any lingering effects, especially with the opener less than 10 days away.

"Our job is to build the best thing we can and make the moves in the best interest of the organization moving forward," Antonetti said. "I hope our fans remain excited about the team we have and Justin is a big part of that."

The Indians have a variety of options. They could trade him before the July 31 deadline, but that would only be if they were out of contention, or make a qualifying offer at the end of the season that is expected to be in the $15 million range.

When asked how he expects it to affect Masterson, Francona said: "I don’t know how it doesn’t affect you. Shoot, it’s a big part of your life but I think he has his act together. I’ve never seen someone with his priorities in order like Masty. He’ll be fine."

It might have affected Masterson a little bit on Friday. He admitted he was fighting himself on the mound at times, gave up his first runs of the spring and had two wild pitches. In six innings, he gave up five hits and walked two but struck out six.

"I felt OK. I just didn’t have the best fluidity in my motion," he said. "I didn’t feel the most comfortable today but it worked out pretty well. That’s where you learn a lot and try to make it happen."

Added Francona: "He faced a pretty good lineup. He’s on track. You’re seeing a little more power to his fastball as he gets deeper. He said something to (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) about not feeling great in delivery but his ability to make adjustments is good."

In five Cactus League games, Masterson is 3-0. He has pitched 19 innings and given up only two runs and 11 hits while walking four and striking out 20.