Masterson: Sell High?

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Salesman extraordinaire Justin Masterson makes his pitch. via multimedia.heraldinteractive.com

The baseball player market is a tricky economy, but you can still apply some simple financial concepts to it, like the axiom "Buy Low, Sell High." In baseball, this means you trade players at the peak of their perceived value, and acquire them when they are underrated (see Ortiz, David).

When evaluating prospects and young players, you need to look at potential value as well as past performance. For example, Kason Gabbard produced well for the Red Sox in 2007, increasing his perceived value. However, few scouts or other baseball people saw him as anything more than a fringe major league player or a 5th starter. Gabbard was traded as part of the Eric Gagne deal (a strange case in which both teams were selling high on their players). Between injury and regression, Kason didn't impress this year (5.14 FIP, only 56 innings pitched), and the Sox didn't miss him. So let's talk about another player who has raised his value.

Playoff hero, bullpen stalwart - it's tough to imagine Justin Masterson's stock rising any higher. By contrast, it's quite easy to see it fall. As I've previously mentioned, going by FIP and BABIP, Masterson's 2008 debut was rather lucky. There is a fair chance that his performance (runs allowed) will fall into line with his peripherals (balls in play, walks). On the other hand, with improved control, he could become an even better pitcher.

In terms of ceiling, few scouting sources believe he'll be a top of the rotation starter, or a closer. Soxprospects.com writes Masterson could be "a #3 starter or dominant set-up man." John Sickels sees Masterson as a #3 starter if his changeup improves; he also believes Justin has the skills and mentality to close.

Considering his ceiling and his peripherals, I think that Masterson is a good candidate to trade. Among starters, Bowden has about the same ceiling, Buchholz has a higher one, and we still have Beckett, Dice-K, Lester, and Wake. Among relievers, we have Daniel Bard and his overpowering fastball rapidly approaching the majors. More importantly, reliever performance is quite variable from year to year, with dominant set-up men one year being atrocious the next (see Betancourt, Rafael and Balfour, Grant). We already have some good set-up candidates in the pen (Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, Wes Littleton) so Masterson isn't desperately needed there.

The danger is that we hold on to Masterson, he regresses, and becomes either a mediocre starter or a poor middle reliever. All the value that he accrued this year is lost. Undoubtedly the Red Sox are a good enough team to survive that possibility. But if Masterson can bring a great return now, like the catcher of the future, then I would definitely go for it.

What do you think? Is it time for the Red Sox to cash in? Should we sell high on Masterson, or should we hold on to him?

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