Jul 1, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Tampa Bay Rays Pursue Justin Masterson?

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In all probability, it seems like the Tampa Bay Rays will hold onto David Price at this point. However, nothing is a sure thing. There are pitchers out there, but none can match Price’s combination of ability on the mound and team control for 2015. There is always a chance that some desperate team will give the Rays the type of offer they have been waiting for and a deal will fall into place. If that happens, the Rays will certainly be happy–they will have gotten three or four more prospects capable of making their team’s future even brighter. For this season, though, Price departing paints a bleak outlook. The Rays are playing their best baseball right now, and suddenly their ace would be gone, replaced by a pitcher from Triple-A like Alex Colome. Could the Rays really let that happen? One possibility for the Rays would be to wheel-and-deal, to trade David Price and then acquire another capable starter. If they do, an intriguing option could be the Cleveland Indians’ Justin Masterson.

Masterson, 29, has been one of the most disappointing pitchers in all of baseball this year. One season after going 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and his first All-Star berth in 2013, Masterson went just 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA in 98 innings pitched before hitting the disabled list with a knee injury. How badly Masterson has fallen is certainly a concern, as is the fact that his fastball velocity is down. On the other hand, Masterson’s value is as low as it has ever been, and the Indians are willing to trade him nonetheless. If they choose to pursue it, the Rays have an opportunity to acquire a potential impact pitcher at a fraction of what he is worth.

“Young, controllable starting pitching”–the question is how good those young starters have to be. No matter what the Indians are looking for, though, the Rays can accommodate them if they so choose. The dream for the Rays is that the Indians would do a deal for Merrill Kelly, a 25 year old right-hander at Triple-A who projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever, and if they did, the Rays would do that trade in a heartbeat, Price trade or not. Assuming Indians GM Chris Antonetti hasn’t lost his mind, the Rays would have to offer up a more legitimate pitching prospect, and that would be especially feasible if the Rays received at least one such player in a Price trade.

Colome himself might be an option to be dealt, but an interesting player for both teams to consider would be left-hander Enny Romero. The 23 year old has struggled mightily this season at Triple-A Durham, but his stuff remains electric and he still could be a frontline starter if all of his problems are sorted out. You have to wonder whether the Rays would be willing to give up on Romero, but he would certainly be a legitimate player for the Indians to consider. If the Rays were only willing to trade a lesser-upside prospect, they could offer Mike Montgomery. Montgomery, the former Kansas City Royals top prospect, has finally delivered a strong season at Durham after struggling the previous three years. He is a nearly big league-ready number three or four starter that the Rays have no room for in their rotation, but the Indians could conceivably use. We will have to see how the market for Masterson develops, but Montgomery would also be the type of pitcher the Indians would be looking for. The bottom line is that if the Rays wanted to acquire Masterson, they could match up quite well with the Indians for a potential trade.

At this point, a trade of David Price has become a big “if,” and whether the Rays will have the desire to acquire another starter after dealing him is another question mark. If both prove true, however, the Rays will give a look to Justin Masterson to help rejuvenate their team after David Price moves on. At the very least, it is an interesting trade to discuss, and we will have to see what will happen to both Price and Masterson as the trade deadline approaches.

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