Aug 30, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Justin Masterson (63) delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Indians Days of Future Past: Justin Masterson

Like every other team in Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians employ numerous players throughout their organization, from the big-league club in Cleveland to their rookie league team in Arizona and beyond. And like every other Major League franchise, the Indians add and subtract from this player pool on a regular basis. This irregular series will serve to post notice when a former Indians player has done something noteworthy with a quick look back at the player’s time in Cleveland.

Player:  Justin Masterson

Current Team:  St. Louis Cardinals

Years in Indians Organization:  Acquired at the 2008 trade deadline along with Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price in exchange for All-Star backstop Victor Martinez

Why He’s In the News:  Masterson was demoted to the St. Louis bullpen, as announced by manager Mike Matheny after last night’s game, following another bad outing that further inflated his already massive ERA with the Cardinals to 7.90.

What He Did:  Masterson is no stranger to the bullpen, having begun his tenure with the Indians there in the second half of 2008.  He also finished 2013 in the bullpen after coming back from an oblique injury, just in time to start closing in place of the free-falling Chris Perez.

However, most of his time with the Tribe was spent as a starter.  Masterson’s best seasons with the Indians came in 2011 (3.21 ERA) and 2013 (3.45 ERA with 3 CG shutouts).  He was consistently among the league leaders in ground ball rate, working his way out of countless jams with double-play grounders that seemed at times to be his signature.  He also developed a nasty slider that helped him grab a few whiffs now and then.

As most of us know, Masterson’s 14-10 season last year was a pivotal part of the Tribe’s playoff push.  He had a knack for going deep into games, giving the bullpen a rest more often than not when he took the mound.  Of his 28 starts, a remarkable 25 were at least 6 innings, and he went at least 7 innings in 12 of them.  It’s worth noting that not all of those starts were pretty; he gave up 5 runs or more in 6 of those 6+ inning outings.

How/Why He Departed:  His contract was up at the end of the 2014 season, and the front office didn’t think he was worth keeping around.  They jumped at the chance to trade him for outfield prospect James Ramsey, which paved the way for the return of Danny Salazar to the rotation.  The move proved to be a good one, as Masterson is set to enter free agency in a month and has only hurt the Cards’ playoff hopes by taking the mound for them every fifth day.

What the Future Holds:  Hard to say for sure.  Unless St. Louis has an injury and needs Masterson to start another game in September, he’ll enter free agency with a 6.03 ERA on the year.  His dramatic collapse this year will certainly scare off teams who may have been willing to pay him big money this offseason.  I see him taking a one-year deal with a small-market team looking to take a chance on his resurgence.  Given Terry Francona‘s willingness to trust in his former players, and the fact that Masterson seems to have a fantastic season every other year, there’s a good chance that team could be the Cleveland Indians.  The team’s young rotation certainly seems pretty good right now, but history shows that pitching depth is a vital thing for a team to have.  For example, consider the fact that the Tribe’s rotation was absolutely stellar for the final two months of last year, but now the 1,2 and 3 starters in that same rotation (Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Zach McAllister) have all been demoted to the bullpen after terrible starts to the 2014 season.

It’s hard to say whether or not there could be a reunion at the season’s end, but it’s certainly a strong possibility.  I’ve always been a fan of Masterson, and I have high hopes that he’ll turn things around eventually, whether he’s in Cleveland or somewhere else.

Notice a player you remember being in the Indians organization? We’re ever-vigilant, but sometimes we miss guys, too! Send us an email at [email protected] and let us know which former Indians farmhand or player is making noise elsewhere.

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