For Cubs, Adding Justin Masterson on the Cheap Offers High Reward

Lost in the masses of amped-up Cubs Twitter users elated over the possibility of adding Jordan Zimmermann was a side note regarding a pitcher named Justin Masterson. Masterson, if you recall, put together four strong seasons during his time in Cleveland, where he was eventually deemed the ace of their staff. He performed at an All-Star caliber in 2013, but things got a little weird near the end of that campaign and beyond.

The Indians were in a playoff race and Masterson was eventually taken out of the starting rotation late in the season due to arm fatigue. The hard-throwing righty was moved to the bullpen, where he had had success in the past, albeit not since 2008 when he was a rookie. His stuff proved to be overwhelming in the limited innings he was given.

As a starter that season, Masterson separated himself from the middle-tier pitchers and entered the conversation as being among the best in baseball. In 29 starts he owned a 3.52 ERA and a WHIP of 1.215. But what was most impressive about the right-hander was his ability to strike people out. He retired nearly 24 percent of the batters he faced via the strikeout and accumulated an impressive 8.9 K/9 ratio. Opposing hitters had a .224 average with a .629 OPS, meaning, for the most part, that he kept hitters off-balanced.

After signing a one-year deal worth over $9 million, the Indians expected big things from their Opening Day starter in 2014 . But for some reason, Masterson just couldn’t find a way to get hitters out. In the early months of April and May, opposing hitters boasted a .270 average while his ERA hovered around five.

It was crisis mode for the Indians. They were not getting the type of production they had come to expect from Masterson and were left wondering what to do as the season continued to drag out. When July hit, the 29-year-old suffered a knee injury that sent him to the disabled list. Sensing that his value had run out, Cleveland moved him to St. Louis; he pitched sparingly, totaling an ugly 7.04 ERA in nine games.

Masterson ended his abysmal 2014 with a 5.88 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, and 4.50 FIP. Blech.

Now, here we are. As a free agent for the first time in his career, Masterson is being targeted by multiple teams around Major League Baseball. Apparently the Cubs, among others, are interested in the righty, that according to a report by the Chicago Sun-Times. The article mentioned that Masterson is willing to take a low-cost deal to get a chance to rebuild his value. If that’s the case and I’m the Cubs, I say go for it. What do they have to lose?

Masterson is not far removed from his stellar All-Star campaign and Cubs fans are familiar with bounce-back seasons by pitchers. The Cubs already hold a solid group of legitimate rotation options going into next season and adding Masterson would only make the competition stronger.

Not only that, but Masterson has a connection with Cubs’ Senior VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod, as McLeod selected him in the 2006 draft. Masterson is familiar with the Cubs’ front office, having played under Theo Epstein in Boston his rookie year of 2008 as well.

Health, however, is an obvious major concern for Masterson, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2014. He has complained that his nagging oblique injury, which led to his eventual knee injury, influenced his mechanical flaws last season. Reports indicate that he is healthy after overcoming issues with the rib cage, knee, and shoulder last season.

Maybe the Cubs strike gold in a fully healthy Masterson who may still have the ability to produce like he did in the past. However, if the price goes up on him I’m not sure it would be worth the risk, only because Masterson showed a lot of concerns last year. Maybe this is the downward arc of a pitcher who had once been very good. Its happened before.

Justin Masterson, who turns 30 in March, is worth a cheap one-year deal. He has an impressive repertoire that includes a fastball topping out at 97 (though I’m not too sure how efficiently he pumps 97 now), a devastating changeup and a disappearing sinker. Masterson can get people out and when he’s on, he’s deadly.

I know Cubs fans are done experimenting with pitchers, but a team that’s signed guys such as James McDonald and Scott Baker in the past leads me to believe the Cubs are willing to take a chance on Masterson.

Add him to the list of low-risk, high-reward players in the Cubs system. He’s worth it.

Back to top button