Justin Masterson agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox on Thursday, just before the winter meetings ended. As he struggled in the 2014 season, Masterson had to settle for less than he would have had he become a free agent at this time last fall, which followed a three-year stretch where he averaged 205 innings per year and twice posted better-than-average ERA.
This one-year deal is definitely a make-good kind of contract, one in which Masterson gets a chance to return to a familiar place and a familiar face in John Farrell, who was once Masterson's pitching coach. Whether he'll be the great version of Masterson, simply good, or the awful version that has reared its head a few times over the years is unknown, but what we do have a sense of is what he'll be paid for each of those scenarios.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported the contract breakdown on Thursday night. Masterson gets a $9.5 million base salary, regardless of whether he throws 200-plus great innings or 100 bad ones. There are bonuses based on how many innings he throws, though, which will get him more money: the assumption, of course, is that Masterson will only get to throw more innings if his performance merits them, and then he'll get paid for beating out expectations.
There are $2.5 million in incentives in total, starting with $500,000 for reaching 185 innings. Those bonuses add up fast after that, as he gets another $500,000 at 190 innings, another at 195, yet another at 200, and lastly $500,000 for 205. If Masterson makes 32 starts, but only averages 5-2/3 innings per outing, he won't get any bonuses. If he averages six innings per start, he'd get an extra million dollars. Averaging 6-1/3 innings per outing over 32 starts would result in an extra two million, and if you nudge the average up ever so slightly, he'll get his full $2.5 million in incentives.
Masterson averaged 205 innings per year from 2011 through 2013, as well as 32 starts per year and just over 6-1/3 per outing. You can see that the Red Sox didn't decide on these incentives figures out of nowhere, and are essentially willing to give Masterson a raise of about $2.24 million to pretend as if it's his fourth year of arbitration instead of his first year of free agency. That's a fair call for both sides, as the Masterson that existed from 2011-2013 is one a team would like to have around for a while, and in lieu of that, at least give a qualifying offer to when he departs.
The Red Sox have set themselves up well here, as has Masterson. He gets a chance to hit reset and pretend as if 2014 never happened, while the Sox add a potential difference maker to their rotation. If Masterson doesn't recover, and it's 2014 all over again, the Sox have options in the minors to replace him in Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez. If they end up signing or trading for a starter for the top of the rotation, Joe Kelly likely gets shuttled to the bullpen to be a swingman, whose primary tasks will also include serving as Masterson insurance.
Maybe Masterson rebounds enough that the Red Sox want to keep him around for themselves. If so, this kind of fair deal seems like the sort of thing that can only work in Boston's favor in attempting to re-sign him or extend him. For now, though, let's let Masterson show he's capable of working towards his first $500,000 bonus before we talk too much about life after 2015.