Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson Struggling To Take Advantage Of Contract Year

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Ace Justin Masterson of the Cleveland Indians entered the season with a whole lot on the line and a whole lot of lofty expectations. He was an All-Star last season, and in the spring he and the Indians flirted about a new contract, but nothing could get done before the start of the season. For now, the talks have reportedly stopped with no new chatter coming anytime soon.

So every time Masterson takes the mound in 2014, he’s pitching for his future, and right now through nine starts in the season, he’s been mediocre at best. On Tuesday night against R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays, Masterson allowed five earned runs on six hits and three walks to push his ERA past four at 4.31. He struck out four, but still his outing left quite a bit to be desired.

This season, Masterson has just five quality starts in nine outings, something that is surprising considering how good he was in that department in 2013. Before Tuesday’s poor outing, it appears that Masterson was on the verge of turning his season around as he was coming off back-to-back wins at home over the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.

Indians manager Terry Francona loves Materson, having managed him at the start of his major league career when he was in the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox. There’s no doubt if it was up to Francona, he would have Masterson back in a Tribe uniform in 2015 and beyond. The problem is the Indians, clearly a mid-market team in MLB, have already spent quite a bit in signing three key players to long term deals — catcher Yan Gomes, second basemen Jason Kipnis and outfielder Michael Brantley.

If Masterson wants to use this season to cash in on a contract either in Cleveland or elsewhere, he’s having a tough time proving that he’s worth anywhere near the contract he wanst, that being close to the one Cincinnati Reds starter Homer Bailey received. The Reds handed Bailey a massive six-year deal worth $105 million in the spring. While it may have increased the price on a deal for Masterson, he’s got a ways to go in 2014 to prove he’s worth that type of deal.

The Indians starter has time to prove what he’s worth with about 25 more starts left in 2014 if he stays healthy. Maybe by the time this season is over, he will have proven that he’s clearly worth ace money on the open market.

Matt Loede has covered the Cleveland Indians for 20 years for National Networks like AP Radio, Metro Networks and other local and national stations. Follow him on twitter @mattloede.

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