Last season, Justin Masterson made his first All-Star team and won a career-best 14 games as the Indians went 92–70 and made their first playoff appearance since 2007. This season? The Tribe are still in contention, but Masterson has not helped one bit. Now, the Indians may be looking to move the pending free agent right-hander at the trade deadline.
Sources: Indians very willing to move Justin Masterson. FA to be due back Friday from DL. Looking for young, controllable starting pitching.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 28, 2014
While they are AL Central rivals, the Tigers and Indians have made trade deadline deals in the past. Would Masterson make sense for the Tigers as either a starter or a reliever?
WHY THIS MAKES SENSE
Masterson was excellent in 2013, allowing a 3.45 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 193 innings atop the Indians' rotation. He bucked a career-long trend by holding left-handed hitters to a .698 OPS. He struck out over a batter per inning for the first time in his career and posted a 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his best with the Indians. It was the second time in three years that he has amassed 3.5 WAR or more.
While things haven't been so rosy in 2014 (more on that below), he is still holding right-handed hitters to a .214 batting average and .653 OPS. He could slot into either the Tigers' rotation or bullpen, something he did capably for the Indians down the stretch last season. Or, if the Tigers get really bold, Masterson and Drew Smyly could form a two-headed monster at the back end of the rotation, with the starter for a given game chosen based on opposing matchups.
WHY THIS DOESN'T MAKE SENSE
As good as Masterson was last season, he has been that bad in 2014. He is walking five batters per nine innings and lefties are hitting a staggering .330/.416/.519 off him. His FIP and xFIP are more forgiving than his 5.51 ERA, but at 4.08 and 4.05, respectively, it's not like Masterson's current production provides a huge upgrade over anyone on the roster. Additionally, Masterson is a free agent at the end of the season and will probably be more expensive than the Tigers are willing to pay for a pitcher of his volatility. Plus, one would think that the Indians would hike up the price on Masterson if Dave Dombrowski comes calling. At 52–53, they're just 3½ games out of the second AL Wild Card slot (heading into Monday night's games).
Masterson would probably be as expensive as a half-season rental can get, and his numbers are not encouraging. The Tigers and Indians have dealt at the deadline before, but Jhonny Peralta's success could make the Tribe gunshy about giving their division rival another useful piece down the stretch.