Red Sox Should Bring Back Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson #63 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on May 14, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The trade deadline is nearly upon us and it has been a big day already for teams like the Giants, Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies, but for the first time in years the Boston Red Sox are fairly quiet. There has been a great deal of speculation around the team, but there has been little in the way of serious talks. Josh Beckett, who has worn out his welcome with the media and with many fans, is unlikely to be moved. Jon Lester is off the table by most accounts. A number of players in the reasonably deep bullpen could be moved and role players like Kelly Shoppach, Mike Aviles and even Jarrod Saltalamacchia are going to draw some calls but with just few hours left the chances that the Red Sox will make an impact move are dwindling.

The team’s major need is obvious- they need starting pitching. That need goes beyond just the final two months of the season as well. While the Red Sox have some quality talent in the pipeline, players like Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens are not likely to contribute to the major league club in 2013. One player on the market that does make sense for Boston, both now and in the future is our old friend Justin Masterson.

Masterson is having a rough year, with a 4.47 ERA and his highest walk rate since he was traded in 2009. He is still a very solid pitcher, however with a 3.92 FIP and a 4.05 xFIP that is more line with his career numbers. Most importantly though, he is still getting a crazy number of ground balls and he is still eating up innings. He has all of the best qualities of Aaron Cook, but unlike Cook and his 0.9 K/9 rate, Masterson can miss a bat every now-and-then. His strikeout rate is still good for a guy who gets so many ground balls, at 6.9 K/9. He tossed 216 innings last year and he has already thrown 139 innings this year. He would slide into the rotation behind Lester, Beckett and Clay Buchholz right now (allowing them to shut down the inexperienced Doubront at some point or ditch Aaron Cook completely). He is cost controlled for two more arbitration years as well, so he would provide some insurance as the young pitchers in the system develop.

The real question is not whether Masterson makes sense, but how much he will cost. He received $3.85M in his first arbitration year, so he is not expensive and he while he will carry a rising price tag in the next few years, he is certainly going to get less than market value for a pitcher of his abilities. The Cleveland Indians are in a position somewhat similar to the Red Sox. They have been competitive these past two years but missed the playoffs and they have a mix of highly promising young players (like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis) and veterans secured for a few more years (Ublado Jimenez, Asdrubal Cabrera). While it would take a miraculous turnaround for them to make the playoffs this year, they are built to compete in 2013 and 2014, so selling off solid pitchers is not a priority.

The Indians biggest need is starting pitching as well, so the talk that they are shopping Masterson is surprising. Boston doesn’t have anything to offer in the way of major league ready starters unless they want to include Franklin Morales or Clayton Mortensen in a deal and that alone will not get this done. The Red Sox better match up with the two offensive needs the Indians could look to address. The Indians are a fairly strong offensive club with major weaknesses at first, third and left field. Here Boston has a number of players that could appeal to Cleveland at many different levels of development. At or near the major league level, Boston could offer players like Mauro Gomez, Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Mike Aviles, and Ryan Sweeney to address those needs. Further down in the system, we have Bryce Brentz, Kolbrin Vitek and Garin Cecchini. A combination of a few of these players would almost certainly be enough to bring Masterson back without overpaying. He will certainly require giving up some value in return, there is a good fit for the two teams that would not include the Red Sox giving up any key prospects or negatively impacting their team right now now.

Masterson is not the ace that many Boston fans are pining for, but he is a good fit for the team and the Indians are a good fit for a number of our more intriguing players. A deal that brings back Justin Masterson would be a wonderful surprise this trade deadline and a sensible move this off-season.

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