It’s funny, I was planning on writing an almost identical article about Asdrubal Cabrera in the still very likely instance the Cleveland Indians move him. But then they went ahead and traded Justin Masterson Tuesday afternoon as I waited for the bus, and a sunny day in northern Kentucky suddenly got a little more grey. It’s just the latest reminder that this silly thing I’m putting a less than healthy amount of time, effort and emotional energy into is more than just a bunch of guys wearing pajamas and playing in the sun. It’s a business and these teams are doing all they can to win games because that leads to more revenue and more job security because the man signing the checks is happy. Yet another reminder that at the end of the day I, a 27-year-old man with the world still in front of him, am spending his spare time rooting for laundry. It’s the nature of the beast. Baseball, all sports really, abuse you for growing attached to guys on the team. Sure it’s easy to fall in love with players, whether they’re some iconic superhero or one of those guys that just seem cool to have around. Raising them onto a pedestal and treating them like a hero, someone you care about, or idolize, yet, it’s easy to cheer a trade like this that moves a decent, at best, pitcher for a guy who could turn into a stud for years to come.
But I liked Masterson. He was interesting. A rare calm, laid back type in the hardcore, intense, all or nothing world of professional sports. Usually pitchers in particular are more of a bulldog, the John Lackey-type that runs on barely restrained animal fury. Masterson wasn’t like that at all – he was almost stereotypically Jamaican when he’d talk, a big, friendly dude with a spookily bald head that happened to be as broad as a barn. Masterson’s starts weren’t appointment viewing, not like Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw are now. But he was a spectacle all his own. The way he rolls his shoulders then swings back like a trebuchet before spreading out to take up the entirety of the batter’s vision…it’s incredible. He’s just so gigantic and that ball from his three-quarters delivery is flying out of the left field bleachers at you, right before burying itself in the dirt like a bowling ball dropped from a plane.
Those high socks of his were amazing – his whole kit was especially since those retiree’s shoes. He’s going to look good in those St. Louis socks with the white stripes atop them – everyone does. That’s what the Cards are getting here, a guy with such silly movement on his pitches it’s made it hard for him to throw strikes. Maybe it’s just me and I like ridiculous things, but a pitcher like that is going to come around. I had hoped it would be with the Tribe, but the Cards are going to get something awesome from him before the season is over.
He’s been a great Indian, of that there’s no doubt. You look at his numbers with the Tribe – 92 ERA+, 7.5 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 – and you come away with a rather mediocre starter. But his FIP was 3.76 with Cleveland. Even this year, Masterson had a 4.08 FIP and he was battling injuries and was fighting himself in starts. I thought he could turn it around, and he still may, but he ate innings. He was a rock in the rotation for the last three or so years, giving the Tribe at least an outside shot at winning most days, and that gorgeous 2013 when he was an absolute horse. That year was special for Tribe fans, their return to relevancy after five years in the wilderness, and Masterson led the charge. He went toe to toe with the best pitchers and best offenses in the game and never blinked, going on a run in May and again in July where he looked nigh unhittable. He was never a true ace but he did yeoman’s work out there, giving the team a shot to win if the offense woke up. My favorite was probably that dazzler against Seattle on a sunny May day in Cleveland– seven innings, 11 strikeouts, only three hits and his ERA slipped below three, and Felix got whomped on the other side to the tune of six runs in five innings. It was a truly brilliant game for the Indians the whole way around, and a feather in the cap of Justin Masterson.
It’s been a pleasure watching Justin turn into a fine major league. He was a consistent force in the rotation since he came over pretty much, making no less than 29 starts each year as a Tribesman and always at least flirting with 200 innings. His strikeout rates have been pretty silly the last two years, as he just became too nasty of a Masty over the winter and started walking the world. Even though he’s 29 he just seems older , and by all accounts a delightful presence in the clubhouse. That’s not as important as his crazy sinker or his durability, but after six months it makes sense that you’d rather be around a guy like Masty than say, A.J. Pierzynski.
I hope this new kid, James Ramsey, pans out. He looks like a fine young hitter and, hopefully, he can play solid defense, as well. Cleveland is likely to come out the winners in this deal simply because they’ll have the younger guy longer, and since the Cards seem to mint gold in the minors it’s all the better. Dealing with an organization like that always brings peace of mind along with a handshake, their ability to mold these young guys into great major league players must stick even if that player leaves. But all the same, it’s a bit of a sad day. Masterson has been part of a new era of Indians baseball, part of the foundation, really, and the closest thing to an ace as we’ve seen since Lee left. At least, until Corey Kluber emerged as a filthbox in his own right.
In the event the Cards make it deep, they’ve got a fan in me just because of that big, silly Jamaican sitting in their rotation. I’ve got hope for the future of the Indians, and I like what they’ve done here, but it’s bittersweet when these moves happen. It’s just another little chip away at the facade I built in my mind about this team, that it’s something I can care about without worry, without the specter of heartbreak looming. Nothing is forever I guess, this is just a reminder.