Masterson’€™s uncertain future has Indians in tough position

Oh the beauty of the internet and social media.

Yesterday evening word got out that the Indians were "listening" to other teams about trade offers for right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson. As soon as word got out on that, the rumor machine and sensationalism of it has spread rapidly.

While it is very true that the Indians are listening to teams that call and ask about Masterson, it is also the Indians just doing their due diligence. It would be silly for them not to listen to any team that calls them inquiring about Masterson, or for that matter guys like Carlos Santana, Danny Salazar, and Jason Kipnis. If Indians GM Chris Antonetti hung up the phone and did not listen to a team inquiring about any of their players, he would not be doing his job.

The point is when a team calls and asks about a player, you listen to what teams say. There is no harm in that, and teams do this all of the time with almost every player on their roster at some point.

What this does is help teams get a feel for potential trade interest should they actually want to trade a player down the road. They will remember that discussion from six months or a year ago that so and so team was interested in so and so player and were willing to part with so and so player. It is simply a note that is filed away for potential use later on.

There is a major difference between "listening" and "shopping", something that White Sox Executive Vice President Ken Williams said so perfectly this morning on MLB Network. Williams said, and I am paraphrasing, "There is a difference between shopping a guy and a difference between listening. We have always been in listening mode, and if you want to present the deal to us then it is our job to consider it."

General managers are always considering deals and gathering information, and they are able to do both by listening and shopping — though the difference between the two is very clear. Listening means teams are actively calling you about the availability of a player, shopping means you are calling other teams to gauge interest in your player.

The Indians should listen to offers on Masterson. While it is extremely unlikely they trade him this offseason, they still have to keep an open mind on his situation.

That situation is one that has Masterson just a year away from free agency. Perhaps a team stuns them with an attractive trade offer that is too hard to pass up, but that likely won’t happen. Still, listening to teams now will also help the Indians get an idea who may be interested in Masterson in July if the Indians’ season goes south and they consider trading him in advance of free agency.

A lot of fans have already expressed some fear and even disgust that the Indians would consider trading Masterson. Again, that goes back to the improper context people are getting when they hear he is being included in trade rumors. Just to set the record straight and avoid any confusion, Indians manager Terry Francona even contacted Masterson today to tell him to ignore the rumors. Fans should do the same.

Kevin Kleps from Crain’s Cleveland had an opportunity to talk to Francona earlier today for a feature they are running later this week and he asked Francona about the Masterson rumors. He tweeted Francona’s response: "He’s not going anywhere. I called him and told him this morning that if he has been reading it, it’s false."

Hopefully that eases some of the fears of the fans.

I still see things playing out this offseason where once the Indians settle a few things with their roster this offseason, they will begin to explore a contract extension with Masterson before the season starts.

Masterson’s arbitration hearing is in early February, so we may see some momentum toward a long term extension made at that point. If the two sides can’t agree on a figure, then he and the Indians likely just agree on a one year deal for now and then in spring training the Indians approach him once again about a contract extension. Once the season begins the chances of a contract extension for him would seriously decline.

Going by the Indians past history with contract extensions, most of them have been done during spring training and finalized right at or shortly into the start of the season in April. We’ve seen this with recent extensions to Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, and we have seen this in the past with the likes of Jake Westbrook, C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez and others.

Right now, after the year Masterson had, it is probably going to take a five year deal (including his arbitration year for 2014) of about $65-75 million to get him to consider resigning with the Indians. If the Indians are unable to extend him and he goes and has another year in 2014 similar to the one in 2013, then he is looking at a much bigger payday in free agency next offseason where a deal for over $100 million is not too crazy to project for him.

Masterson is the perfect guy to try and extend as he has proven to be durable over his career, has been a very successful starting pitcher, is an outstanding teammate, is great within the community and seems to like it in Cleveland. But the money still talks and since the Indians gave Charles Nagy a four-year extension in 1998, they have been reluctant to go beyond three years for any pitcher in free agency or player nearing free agency. It will take the Indians moving outside of their comfort zone and going to four or five years for any chance at an extension to take place.

Bottom line, Masterson is a year from free agency and fans need to come to grips with the fact that there is a chance he does not return. But that departure should not happen in a trade this offseason. He’s too important to what they want to do in 2014 and there is still a chance he can be kept beyond the 2014 season.