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July 8, 2014 at 1:55 pm ET
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Mastering Masterson

Justin MastersonIn late March, all of Cleveland moaned when ace pitcher Justin Masterson broke off contract negotiations with the team. “Oh no… not again.” It seemed Masty was clearing his throat to sing the next awful refrain of The (Cleveland) Song That Never Ends. Like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee before him, Masty looked primed to be the next Cy Young-caliber pitcher to make his name in Cleveland and his money elsewhere. Come July, the team would probably send their ace packing in return for a box full of question marks.

Masterson, however, proved the only question mark. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak, Cleveland’s dude is being very un-dude in 2014: 3.2 IP, 5 ER; 4.2 IP, 4 ER; 4.1 IP, 7 ER… Masterson has only 7 (of 19) quality starts. When Masterson is bad, he’s leather-jacket-and-jheri-curl, capital-B-Bad. He’s so bad, Walter White briefly considered changing vocations. He’s so Bad, the Good and the Ugly said, “To hell with it,” abandoned that Confederate gold, and had a few cervezas instead. In his past three starts, Masty has pitched 9 innings total. Ouch.

Before negotiations broke, rumors whispered Masterson’s camp wanted 4+ years and $17M annually. Not even the Yankees would pay $68M now. Masterson’s asking price, and in turn, his trade value, have sank to the Earth’s core as his ERA rises. A GM would have to be bonkers to trade more than a bag of balls for Masterson. Why gamble on an unstable half-year rental when Masty’s offseason price will be closer to Wal-Mart than Macy’s?

Cleveland’s best hope was they’d get more Michael Brantley and less Matt LaPorta in trade for Justin Masterson. Now, the best hope is that Cleveland buys low this offseason and Masterson rebounds in 2015. Cleveland dodged a bullet by letting Ubaldo Jiminez walk this past offseason, they don’t need to compensate by letting Masterson shoot them in the foot.

The thought which shivers spines and clenches anal sphincters in the Tower City is Cleveland throwing ace-money at Masterson, only to see his Jekyll and Hyde cosplay continue. For all the pain of saying bon voyage to Sabathia and Lee, Cleveland has perhaps felt  a greater sting when big-contract players fail to perform. I’m looking at you, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore.

Ask Texas (A-Rod). Ask the Dodgers (Kevin Brown). Ask the Yankees (A-Rod, again). Bad contracts hit like nuclear bombs, leaving years of inhospitable scrubland where victories once grew. The Angels (Pujols and Hamilton) and the Reds (Votto) are flying near the danger zone. Cleveland, nearing MLB-low attendance despite a 2013 Wild Card appearance, simply can’t afford to waste 3 or 4 years.

What Cleveland can afford is up to Justin Masterson now.

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