Justin Masterson: Can a return to Boston create a return to form?


Jon Lester’s much discussed decision to join the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday created a chain reaction unlike any Red Sox Nation had seen in quite some time. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox front office were very busy the following day trading for lefty Wade Miley and righty Rick Porcello and signing Justin Masterson to a one-year deal. For a team that had a rotation consisting of Clay Buchholz and a long list of young arms, these moves were crucial in starting to shape a team that is attempting to rebuild after losing a homegrown ace in Lester and coming off of a terrible season that saw the Red Sox at the very bottom of the AL East.

Red Sox fans are very familiar with Justin Masterson who began his career in Boston after they drafted him in the second round of the 2006 amateur draft. Master son had fifteen total starts for the Red Sox between 2008 and 2009 before being traded to the Indians at the 2009 trade deadline for Victor Martinez. While your typical sports radio caller was a V-Mart fan, many wondered why the Red Sox were willing to part with the young righty.

Masterson is a fastball/sinker/slider tosser who uses a three-quarter arm delivery that can certainly throw some batters off who are not familiar with him. He likes to change up speeds to aid in his trickery, and looks to pitch to contact to get groundball outs, something that the front office has clearly focused on this offseason in looking at their recent moves.

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His first few seasons in the Majors were a bit of a learning experience for the pitcher who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, going 16-28 total and adding an ERA of 3.16, 4.52 and 4.70 respectively. By the 2011 season in Cleveland, Masterson had started to figure things out and had his best season yet – he was 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA. He had career highs in strikeouts with 158 and innings pitched with 216. After a similar year in 2012, Masterson was named the opening day starter for the Indians in 2013, and his performance that season proved Cleveland correct in giving him that status. He was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 193 innings pitched, giving up only 156 hits and adding 195 strikeouts. That season earned him his first and only All-Star Game appearance, and Masterson was in the top ten in multiple categories for AL pitchers.

While he seemed to be improving each year and truly cementing his role as the face of the Indians pitching staff, the 2014 season proved to be a year full of adversity for the righty which was very peculiar considering he avoided arbitration to play on a one-year deal with hopes of landing a longer, more lucrative deal in the offseason. After a laundry list of injuries plagued him throughout 2014, his inconsistencies earned him a 4-6 record with 5.51 ERA forcing Cleveland to send him packing at the deadline to St. Louis. The Cardinals thought a change of scenery and a role on a National League team might be just what he needed to help them for the stretch run, however he was arguably worse for the Cards. His ERA ballooned to a whopping 7.04 and led to a demotion to the bullpen where he was mostly ineffective.

This is your classic low risk/high reward signing for the Red Sox. Masterson’s deal is for only one year and 9.5 million dollars with incentives that could add to that total.

It is obvious that Boston is not relying on Justin Masterson to replace Jon Lester or be anything more than a serviceable starter and innings eater, and a return to Fenway may be the shot-to-the-arm that his career needs at this point. Ben Cherington has already shot down any ideas of Masterson being signed to help out of the bullpen, and said he fully expects him to begin the year as a starting pitcher. If Masterson can return to his 2013 form, then he would potentially be the biggest steal of the Winter Meetings. However, on a team that just lost its homegrown ace after a long ordeal and negotiation process and has been forced to fill out their rotation on the fly, the Sox can’t really afford to swing and miss on starting pitching.