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San Francisco Giants: Is Justin Masterson the answer as fifth starter?

By Mark ONeill
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported earlier this week that Justin Masterson, longtime Cleveland Indians right-handed starting pitcher, has drawn the interest of six different teams, three from the American League and three from the National League. The San Francisco Giants, in need of a fifth starter and not doing anything about it until the Pablo Sandoval contract situation is resolved, are included in this posse of six teams, investigating whether or not to try and rope the 29-year-old Masterson into their corral.

Though 2013 did not turn out to be the kind of season with which Masterson would have liked to kick off a serious run at free agency, he nonetheless is banking on his numbers from 2010-2013 to make a more definitive statement, during which time he averaged 199 innings pitched per season.

2014, unfortunately, was a season which combined some adversity, along with a mid-season trade to the St. Louis Cardinals, where Masterson’s ERA in six starts ballooned out to 7.03, while he surrendered as many home runs-six-as he had in his first nineteen starts as a member of the Tribe.

Masterson put together his best season in 2013, going 14-10, with a 3.45 ERA in 29 games started, and contributed much to Cleveland’s appearance in the Wild Card game under manager Terry Francona.

Masterson and AT&T Park might make for an interesting combination.

He has spent his entire career in the American League, so a move to San Francisco would not only place him in a pitchers’ paradise, it would give him a venue in which he was the new kid on the block.

His strength is that he induces the ground ball, with a 58% ground ball average his past two seasons, which certainly is an attractive feature. His weakness, other than an ERA that has ping-ponged from 4.70 (2010) to 3.20 (2011), back up to 4.90 (2012), and then settling in at 3.45 in 2013, was a problematic right knee, allegedly “in the rear view mirror, now.”

In his player profile on Masterson, October 5th, Zach Links suggests that trying to assess Masterson’s market value, after his down season in 2013, is difficult, and that what Masterson will probably do, is seek a one-year deal to reestablish his track record, and then pursue a more lengthy contract at top value at the end of 2015. Links suggests that a one-year contract for 2015 might run somewhere in the 12 million dollar range.

Jun 9, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) returns to the dugout with catcher Buster Posey (28) after the top of the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Frankly, there are about three variables too many, to legitimately consider Masterson a fit. For the San Francisco Giants to put Masterson in their sights, they would have to be able to overlook the following uncertainties: unfamiliarity with AT&T Park, not to mention the National League; injuries last season including right knee, a shoulder impingement, and a lingering left oblique issue; inconsistency; and a heavy price tag that would probably be double what it would cost Brian Sabean to sign Ryan Vogelsong.

Brian Sabean has proven that he is willing to spend money for an impact player, and of course, it makes sense to thoroughly investigate all possible solutions to existing shortcomings on the San Francisco Giants’ roster, but in this case, it would pay to continue the search.

Justin Masterson is not the answer to the Giants’ need for a fifth starter in the rotation.

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