The St. Louis Cardinals had two primary goals when they acquired Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians for outfield prospect James Ramsey in late July; to develop the 2013 American League All-Star into an innings eater and improve his pitching command. Needless to say, neither plan really worked to the Cardinals’ benefit.
Masterson faced difficulties settling into his niche as a starter, as the righty only pitched more than six innings once and posted a poor 7.04 ERA with a 2-3 Cardinal record through August. The 29 year old’s rough patch punched him a ticket back to the bullpen, in which he only worked three games for just 3.1 innings.
At the time of the trading deadline, this move seemed like a low-risk, high-reward deal for the Cardinals. But St. Louis never really received any reward out of it, as Masterson tossed only one quality start before hurlers Marco Gonzales and Michael Wacha were given opportunities to claim the fifth starter’s spot in September. By October, St. Louis decided to leave the former Indian off the playoff roster entirely.
One season after co-leading the American league in shutouts, Masterson ran into trouble by pitching around too many hitters. The right hander’s command was sporadic at best, walking 13 batters and allowing 35 hits in only 30.2 total innings with the Redbirds. Unable to polish his mechanical problems in the Gateway City, Masterson’s contributions were limited on a Cardinal team that virtually grinded out every game since his acquisition.
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Masterson has shown improvement and the ability to learn from teammates in the past, but his chances of re-signing with the Cardinals are basically nonexistent. The righty is looking for his second change of scenery in nearly four months, but there may be more suitors than Cardinal fans think.
According to a Vox Media Cubs blog, Masterson may be a reasonable fit for the Cardinals’ long-time rival. The Chicago Cubs have become famous for helping injury-prone pitchers bounce back, most recently Jason Hammel, who only posted 7 wins with a 4.97 ERA his previous year with the Baltimore Orioles.
Masterson has also been linked in rumors with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins. Only time will tell where the righty pitches next year, but some analysts believe he could reunite with the Cleveland Indians as soon as this offseason.
The Cardinals should look at Masterson’s departure as a reason to invest in a swing man for the bullpen, rather than replacing him with a full-time starter. Many of the Cardinal draftees currently in the bullpen can be pushed for multiple since many were developed as starters in the minor leagues, but there could be some changes to reduce the chance of injury with these arms.
Although the general manager John Mozeliak has yet to heavily address bullpen concerns this offseason, players like Gavin Floyd or Luke Hochevar could swing for bargain deals and may only need a few tweaks in mechanics to lead a pack of young arms. The Cardinals could search for a former spot starter near the brink of retirement, but ultimately should reach out to another under-the-radar pitcher to prepare for Masterson’s inevitable departure.