Pirates Reportedly Interested in Justin Masterson

According to Travis Sawchik, the Pittsburgh Pirates are reportedly interested in right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson. Just like with the Trevor Cahill rumor the other day, the thought is that Masterson would like to sign a one-year deal to rebuild value. Masterson has had two straight down years, posting a 5.61 ERA over 59.1 innings with the Red Sox in 2015, and a 5.88 ERA in 128.1 innings in 2014, splitting the year between the Cleveland Indians and St Louis Cardinals.

In six seasons with the Indians, Masterson posted a 4.23 ERA over 950.2 innings, with 797 strikeouts and a 1.40 WHIP. He topped out at a 3.21 ERA in 2011 when he threw a career-high 216 innings. The 30-year-old(31 in March) also pitched well in 2013, with a 3.45 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 193 innings.

UPDATE 6:56 PM: Thoughts from Tim Williams…

I gave my thoughts on the reclamation project angle the other day in the Cahill article, and walked through why he made sense as a reclamation project. I’ll do the same for Masterson in an abbreviated write-up. Masterson is a guy I’ve liked for a few years, and who might have a lot more upside than Cahill, so my initial thought would be that he’s a better reclamation option.

First of all, Masterson checks off the strikeouts, poor control, and heavy ground ball rate that you usually see from the Pirates’ reclamation guys. His ground ball rate is 56.3% for his career, and approaching 60% in his best years. His strikeout rate is 7.5 K/9 for his career, but a strikeout per inning in his best years. And his walk rate has really struggled the last two years, but the Pirates have done a good job of cutting down walk issues in the past with guys like Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano.

There’s also the previous success angle, and this is where Masterson is well above Cahill. The best from Cahill was about the value of a number 3-5 starter. Masterson’s best could easily fit at the top of a rotation, or give the Pirates a really strong number three starter behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. He was a 4.2 fWAR player in 2011 and a 3.5 fWAR in 2013. He also topped 200 innings twice in the past, and 180 innings two other times, so he’s a guy who could be a fixture in the rotation all year.

The one red flag is that Masterson has lost velocity the last few years. He averaged 92.7 MPH in 2011, and was close to 92 in 2012-13. He dropped to 88.9 in 2014 and 87.4 in 2015. He’s also a bit older than Cahill, turning 31 in 2016, so there might be the “is he starting an early decline” factor going on here. He also had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in September, so that could have played a factor in his velocity. He’s expected to be ready for Spring Training.

If the Pirates could fix Masterson, he’d have a lot of upside. If the price is right, I think signing both of these guys would make sense. I’d give Masterson the rotation spot, and have Cahill battle with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton for a back of the rotation spot. If he loses, he’d provide a strong reliever and spot starter depth out of the bullpen.

The interesting thing about Masterson is that he didn’t get rated in the FanGraphs crowdsourcing. Their contracts cut off at $3 M for one year. He might make more than that, but I doubt a combo of Masterson and Cahill (or two similar reclamation guys) would cost more than $10-12 M total for the 2016 season. That might be the best approach for the Pirates to take, increasing their chances of getting a strong bounce back guy, while also not blocking any of the prospects or cutting into future payrolls to fix a short-term need.

  • If the contract is small, then Masterson is worth a flyer, but not at anything above 2-3 mil. As far as velocity, it’s important but not critical – read Dallas Kuechel or Vance Worley for something recent… Control is everything and if either guy gets signed it will be that ability to regain confidence with control that will determine how successful they would be.

  • I didn’t like Masterson last year, and I don’t like him this year. For me it isn’t that he lost some velocity, he lost a ton of velocity. No amount of Searage withchcraft is going to bring back 5MPH on his fastball. At best he could possibly get to 90, if he is healthy, but I’m not sure that he could be effective pitching at 90MPH.

  • Masterson has to be healthy. Spending 10-12 million is fine, but not when either will produce anything.

  • please no…they went from Burnett to Masterson and Cahill. No bueno.

    • Masterson and Burnett arent exactly polar opposites in terms of once quality arms now considered willing to be ignored. AJ still had the K stuff, but suffered from a increased walk rate and ERAs that were higher than what his FIP suggested.

      Masterson still has enough K stuff for 7 per 9, struggles from an increased walk rate and his ERA has been much higher than what his FIP suggests.

      Masterson’s FIP still isnt good enough, but a walk per inning less and it wouldnt shock me to see Masterson carve out some role on a team. I think he still has a lower than 4 ERA in him if that walk rate gets back into the low 3s.

  • Isn’t Bob Walk still averaging 87.5 mph?

    In all seriousness, if the Pirates want to sign him to a 1 year, $1M minor league deal that bumps to $3M if makes the major league team and it carries a $9M team option for 2017…I’m alright with that.

  • Id take him as a reliever. His velo isnt making anyone shudder as a SP, but you get him somewhere around 90 mph out of the pen and try him in a long relief role. He’s still missing enough bats, he’s just walking guys at a stupid rate.

    Bring him in cheap, get his control under control (bad pun of the day), get him back to throwing at at 55-58% GB rate, and slot him into the bullpen under long relief/if shit breaks bad. Gonna need an early season insurance policy stashed somewhere in case a few ML arms go down.

    • Sounds like a $1M reliever or a minor league deal.
      Also sounds about right.

      • Id offer him 3 million. Its total crap money, but his value is likely near crap and for a guy like that its not the worst place to go to rebuild whatever career you may have left.

        I think his upside is higher than Cahill as a SP but that velo loss scares me enough to throw Cahill into the rotation and Masterson into the pen. Still getting Ks but throwing 89 is daunting.

  • I’ll get excited over Kazmir or Samardzija…

  • It is common place to parrot transfer rumors in European football because a vast majority follow an easily identifiable template. Formerly good ground ball pitcher looking for deal to re-establish value rumored to be interest in Pirates it right up that alley.

  • Sign Masterson and non-tender Locke. Then go sign a legit #3 pitcher.

    • Except that Masterson or Cahill will cost more this year than Locke is projected to make in arbitration. And we know that Locke can pitch well now and then, which is more than you can say about Masterson or Cahill.

    • Masterson will probably cost as much or more than Locke next year, presuming no second year, which Locke has locked in. Locke is young and healthy vs. old and 3 months from surgery. If Masterson had Locke’s 2015 season it would count as a bounce back year. Locke is the best bet the Pirates have for a breakout pitcher between him, Cahill and Masterson.

    • I don’t think they should non-Tender Locke. At $3.5M he’s worth giving another year to, even if they move him to the bullpen.

  • Left Handed Pitchers!! needing more wins against the Cubs, Cards, and Brewers, Pirates need additional left handed pitcher in the rotation. we need to get better against our own division first.

  • I am guessing Masterson would be worth a minimum salary — somewhere around $9 an hour.

    • He could supplement that working as Cutch’s waiter. Dammit don’t keep filling Cutch’s water glass.

  • This really would be dumpster diving. Red Sox are signing David Price and the Pirates are interested in Bat Masterson, who is likely better with a gun than a baseball.

    • Take a look at this article by AJ Cassavell at Sports On Earth: http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/158279578/ on what signing one of the 10 most-expensive guys has netted you each of the last 5 years. It’s mostly a tire fire next to a sewage treatment plant next to a paper mill.

      The Pirates have zero mentions for signing top 10 most-expensive, and multiple mentions for signing actual top-10 “turned out to be worth it” guys.

      I will happily watch them continue to pass on signing guys like David Price and dumpster diving for players who turn out to be better for the organization in the long run.

  • We still need a ground keeper. Focus Neal….

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    December 1, 2015 7:05 pm

    Oh gosh, please no…Morton even looks good compared to him…

  • Pirates should try and ask for Shelby Miller from the Braves, he would fit right in as the #3 starter…He has 3 more years of control

  • Sorry but Masterson just had his shoulder scoped. His velocity was down to 88 last year, mostly out of the bullpen. Bucs have had success with players who spent other teams money recovering from surgery. If they are interested I wouldn’t be surprise if it is a minor league contract so he can spend two months working with Indy.

  • I would like to get both him and Cahill on one year deals. Then we could deal Morton or Locke.

    • uhh, both of those guys have been worse the last two years than either Locke or Morton.

      • Lee Foo you alluding to the fact that the PBC has been eluding a pitching option.That is being delusional.

      • To emphasize your point – Cahill was paid $12 mil in 2015; returned a 0.1 WAR worth $900K. Masterson was paid $9.5 mil in 2015; returned a -0.2 WAR which equates to a – $1.2 mil. And poor Jeff Locke was paid $500K in 2015; returned a 1.6 WAR which equates to $12.8 mil. Locke had an ERA above 4.00, but his xFIP was a lot lower bringing it down below 4.00. His performance in 2015 was probably above average for a #4 guy in a Rotation, and excellent for a #5 guy in a Rotation.

  • Is it out of the realm of possibility to get Cahill and Masterson for 5m each and Kazmir for 10m? If so i would be on board with that. And before someone says it, yes Morton is set to make 7m but someone would take him and Locke might be best suited out of the pen.

    • The numbers for Cahill and Masterson are close, but Kazmir will get closer to 3/$45.

      • If that is the case im not sure that fits the pirates. Maybe Fister or Lincecum then but they almost fall into that reclamation category as well.

        • Fister, to me, seems closer to just totally useless than Masterson.

          Both saw a velo loss, but Fister is throwing softer, with crap results, and not striking out enough guys to show any movement/deception to make up for his crap velo.

          At least with Masterson you still get a 7 K/9 guy who gets GBs and needs to stop walking people. Fister is a mess.

          • Except even in good years Masterson has Morton-like splits.

            Shoulder injury, platoon-prone, project. Eesh.

  • terrygordon30
    December 1, 2015 6:31 pm

    I would like the Pirates to hold out for having an option year in these deals.

  • Like Cahill, I’d be fine with bringing him in on a minor league deal as a depth starter/reclamation project. Either could be valuable as a long reliever if that need presents itself, and each has had Major League success as a starter at some point, so until Taillon and Glasnow are ready to step up, they could fill in for injured players.

    • Definitely. A month in Indy or Extended working with Benedict and either could be…oh wait.

  • piraterican21
    December 1, 2015 6:21 pm

    Love Cahill, this guy not so much

  • Personally I want him. If he’s finally healthy, fits what they like to do to a T.

    • I like both Masterson and Cahill, but not both. It is okay to take a flyer on one pitcher, but we also need a sure thing to slot into the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

      • “…we also need a sure thing to slot into the No. 3 spot in the rotation.”

        If they can’t afford $12m for Happ, they don’t have a shot at getting anything close to a “sure thing” mid-rotation starter.

        • I don’t know that they can’t afford the $12 million, or if they just don’t think Happ specifically is worth it. They might be willing to spend that same $12 million (or even a little more) on Kazmir or Samardzija or someone else with a little more of a track record than Happ’s 2 months.

        • I think the 3 years was more of a problem than the 12mil. He is 33 now and with the prospects coming up the next 2 seasons I woild hate to be paying him that much to at best be in the pen.

          • Agreed, but what non-QO #3 is signing for less than three years in this market? Very unlikely.

      • But that is the whole idea. If they have $10 million allocated for a FA starter, it is better to get two guys who have had past success for a total of $10 million than guess on one. This way, if they can fix either one, they are in good shape and if the fix both it’s a bonanza.

        And there is no such thing as a sure thing when you are talking about major league pitchers. You want to bet your house against $1000 that David Price will pitch over 220 innings and finish in the top 10 for the Cy Young next year? That’s my definition of a sure thing. If you want to make that bet, let me know and we can get in touch. Bring an attorney.

        • I love the whole reclamation project thing but I am afraid the only thing those two guys will do is make me feel better about Morton and Locke.

      • I would go for both, if the Pirates think they have a chance to rebound. More lottery tickets!

  • Oh boy…isn’t this exciting….