Indians general manager Chris Antonetti did not rule out reopening negotiations on a multi-year contract extension with right-hander Justin Masterson, but confirmed Friday that talks with Masterson’s agent Rand Rowley had been tabled.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the halt in talks Thursday night.
"Potentially revisit it down the road, but right now our focus will be on preparing for the season," Antonetti said. "Both sides made a really earnest effort to try to find common ground and get something done. In the end, we weren’t able to align.
"We’ll always leave the door open, we’ll never close any doors. It stems from our profound belief in Justin. He embodies everything we want our players to be. He’s a great teammate, a great person and an exceptional performer. I know there remains the desire on our side for him to be there long-term and I think he’d like to be here long term. That’s a good common ground to start with, just at this monent in time we weren’t able to align on the right contract for him.’
Judging from reaction on social media, Indians fans believe Masterson is essentially gone, much in the same fashion as pitchers CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and catcher Victor Martinez, players Indians management weren’t willing to make a financial investment to keep when they reached the peak of their careers.
"We’re fortunate that Justin’s here for next year and we’re not going to close any doors," Antonetti said. "There will be other junctures in time that we can explore an extension with him. It’s just not right now."
Antonetti said the Indians’ preference during the season is to keep the focus on baseball and not have distractions.
He acknowleged that future payroll obligations with arbitration-eligible players played a part in shutting down the talks, but he didn’t see that as an obstacle.
"The thing we want and what Justin wants is to be part of a championship-caliber team," Antonetti said. "What we need to do is look at how we fairly compensate players, but fit them within in the constraints of want we expect our payrolls will be moving forward.
"Justin’s a big part of our team. We’re counting on him to lead us to a post-season and to a World Series. That’s our focus. Where things lead after that, if we have an opportunity to revisit things with Justin we’re open to doing that."
Antonetti said when he met with Masterson Friday morning, Masterson was "great."
"He expressed appreciation in our desire to keep him here past this year and appreciated the efforts both sides made to try to get something done because it’s been a fairly lengthy process that dates back really to the start of the year," Antonetti said.
The Indians may want to see if Masterson can repeat his 2013 season, when he went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA. The previous year the Beavercreek High School product was 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA.
Manager Terry Francona said the halt in talks will affect Masterson, but not in how he performs.
"I don’t know how it doesn’t affect you," Francona said. "But I think Masty’s got his act together. I’ve never seen somebody that seems to have his priorities in order as much as Masty. I think Masty will be just fine."
Francona said the Masterson situation could have an effect in the clubhouse.
"I bet you they will be (disappointed)," Francona said. "They all like him. Shoot, I think Chris wanted to get it done or they wouldn’t have tried. That’s the whole idea. But it doesn’t carry over, doesn’t mean a guy’s not going to win. That’s the way the game is, that’s why the set kind of a deadline, let’s not let this go into the season.
"Realistically you probably can’t sign everybody you want to."
Asked his reaction, Francona said, "I don’t know that I do. I think I already have a really good relationship with Masty. He knows how much we like him. For the Indians to be talking to him about that type of money, just because you don’t get a deal done doesn’t mean you don’t really respect the player and care about the player. It has to fit in the parameters of our team and I think Chris probably did a pretty good job of explaining that to Masty."
Rosenthal reported via Twitter that the proposal Masterson’s agent gave the Indians was believed to be for three years and under $17.5 million average given to the Cincinnati Reds’ Homer Bailey. Antonetti said the Bailey deal came up, but said the value of the Masterson proposall that he has seen written is not accurate.
Masterson, who will start Opening Day for the third consecutive year, could hit the free agency market next winter.
Masterson is scheduled to start today against the Colorado Rockies at Talking Stick and will discuss the situation afterward.
On another front, Antonetti would not discuss contract talks with second baseman Jason Kipnis, but stuck to the Indians’ self-imposed deadline of Opening Day to get something done. An All-Star in 2013, Kipnis will be arbitration eligible after this season.