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.
Pirates are interested in free agent RHP Justin Masterson, likely seeking one-year deal to rebuild value, per source
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) December 1, 2015
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.