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Indians, Masterson avoid arbitration with 1-year deal

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Neither side wanted to go head-to-head in the nasty business of arbitration.

Still, the Indians and ace pitcher Justin Masterson were poised to make the trek from Arizona to Florida on Tuesday afternoon to prepare for the dreaded process of the scheduled hearing Thursday.

But those plans were halted about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday -- before either side boarded a plane -- when the two sides struck a one-year deal that rendered arbitration unnecessary.

CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman was the first to report Masterson's one-year deal is worth $9.7625 million, just $162,500 below the midpoint between the numbers the two sides submitted for arbitration.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Masterson was seeking $11.8 million. The Indians countered with an offer of $8.05 million. The $3.75 million difference between the two numbers was the biggest gap in all the arbitration cases this season.

"We're thankful we're able to reach an agreement and not progress towards a hearing," Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said. "Justin's developed into one of the leaders on our team. Not only with his performance on the field, but the way he carries himself and his team-first approach and mentality. ... He was our most consistent starter for the majority of the season but he was willing to come back and pitch out of the pen at the end of the season and in the postseason. That speaks directly to his mindset to do anything to help the team."

There were signs pointing in the direction that movement was happening late Tuesday morning when Indians assistant general manager Mike Chernoff, who has served as the team's lead negotiator for its arbitration cases, was spotted hanging around the spring training complex fields during the morning workout.

Masterson, 28, led Indians pitchers in wins last season. He was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and made $5.69 million. After a midmorning bullpen session, Masterson happily confirmed that talks were intensifying.

Masterson's hearing was the final of four the Indians faced this spring. The team won its two cases that went to arbitration -- for the first time in 22 years -- against right-handed pitchers Vinnie Pestano (asked for $1.45 million, but was awarded $975,000) and Josh Tomlin (who asked for $975,000, but was awarded $800,000).

The Tribe avoided its two other hearings after signing outfielder Michael Brantley to a four-year, $25 million extension four days before settling on a one-year deal with Masterson.

"It's great to have it all resolved," Antonetti said. "Our clear preference in each of the cases was to try to negotiate settlements. We're really happy to be able to do that in Justin's case."

The club and Masterson's agent, Randy Rowley, can continue to negotiate a long-term deal to keep the right-hander with the Indians past the 2014 season, after which he would become a free agent. In five seasons, Masterson is 53-63 with a 4.03 ERA in 212 games (including 150 starts).

"We remain open-minded," Antonetti said. "We haven't set any sort of deadlines, although there's a natural deadline of the start of the season. I think we all agree -- not in Justin's case specifically, but just generally -- that we want the focus to be on the field once the season starts. For that reason we tend not to negotiate contracts during the season."

Antonetti did say that if the two sides are close on a multi-year extension heading into the season opener at the Oakland Athletics on March 31, they would be willing to continue negotiations.

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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