Red Sox 25 in 25: Justin Masterson


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Justin Masterson

is well-known to Red Sox Nation. A second round Red Sox draft pick in 2006, out of San Diego State University, Masterson came up with the Red Sox in 2008. He started nine games in the first half of 2008, going 4-2, with a 3.67 ERA. Masterson came into his own out of the bullpen in the second half of 2008, allowing just a 2.36 ERA as a reliable late inning option for the playoff bound Red Sox. His success continued in the playoffs, pitching 9.2 innings, allowing just two runs (1.86 ERA) and striking out nine.

After a mediocre first half (4.50 ERA) in 2009, the Red Sox traded him to Cleveland (along with two other prospects) at the trade deadline for Victor Martinez. The trade became a sore point for some fans because Masterson excelled in Cleveland, making the All-Star team in 2013. The fact that the Red Sox led VMart walk as a free agent in 2009, then he went to Detroit and flourished (led AL in OPS and OBP last season) made the Masterson deal doubly painful.

2014 Recap

Generally a contract year is a time in which teams can get the best performance out of players because they know they will have greater negotiating leverage if they have a big year in the last year of their expiring contract. Masterson, after his All-Star appearance in 2013 (14-10, 3.45 in 193 IP), thought he was worth a multi-year deal in the 15-17 million dollar range, befitting an ace starter. The Indians disagreed and both sides agreed to stop negotiating in late March, until after the season.

The flip side of a contract year is that things can go south for the player. They start out poorly, then press to improve and do even worse. After a great first start of the year (seven scoreless innings), Masterson floundered, posting a 4.84 ERA in April. Masterson made his last start for the Indians on July 7, unable to get out of the third inning (he was only able to pitch 5 innings in 11 of 19 Cleveland starts). The team placed him on the disabled list with a knee injury after that game, much the way the Red Sox shut down Clay Buchholz last season to try to get him on track. It did not work for Masterson either. In two rehab starts, Masterson did not fare well at AAA Columbus, walking eight in 11 innings over two starts. With free agency looming, a struggling pitcher does not seem like a good investment, so the Indians cut their losses and traded Masterson, as he was ready to come off the disabled list, to the St. Louis Cardinals for a prospect.

The Cardinals were not able to cure Masterson’s struggles in 2014. After two rocky starts, Masterson appeared to right the ship with seven scoreless innings against the Marlins on August 16, but he then fell apart against the Reds in his next start, blowing a 3-0 fifth inning lead, though the Cardinals came back and won. Two more ineffective starts later, the Cardinals removed him from the rotation. He only appeared three times in September for the Cardinals, though he was not scored upon. Masterson did not appear in the postseason for the Cardinals who were eliminated in the NLCS.

2015 Outlook

Upon signing a one year, $9.5 million contract (he made $9.62 million last season in his final arbitration year) with the Red Sox on December 11, Masterson attributed his struggles in 2014 (in addition to his overall 5.88 ERA, he walked 5.1 batters per nine innings in Cleveland) to a variety of ailments. He had rib cage issues which contributed to his knee problems.

"“Last year was purely health,” Masterson said. “We tried to satisfy and make corrections through mechanical-type things, because I wasn’t experiencing any pain, but I lost some flexibility and quite honestly a lot of other things. I’m 100 percent confident we’ll be good to go.”"

The Red Sox and Masterson are hoping this one year deal will help Masterson re-establish his value as a front line starter. Adrian Beltre had one of his best seasons using this method in 2010 with the Red Sox (.919 OPS, sparkling defense, led AL in doubles). Considering their prior connection, Masterson might be willing to continue past 2015 with his former Red Sox pitching coach, now the Red Sox manager John Farrell. Though, once those free agent dollars are dangled in front of a player, familiarity isn’t as important as financially taking care of your family.

Tomorrow’s 25 in 25 subject is likely in Boston for a few years until his free agent time arrives. That player is an ex-Arizona Diamondback, left handed starter Wade Miley [/related-category category="25 in 25"]