The reality is that the Indians are willing to listen to offers for any of their players.
"That's how we operate," general manager Chris Antonetti said.
So, yes, the Indians are open to hearing trade proposals for Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who are both entering the final season of their respective contracts. That is part of Antonetti's modus operandi, and the approach has the potential to establish groundwork for future discussions, whether or not the players in question are in the plans for the Opening Day roster.
Consider that Tampa Bay is open to fielding trade offers for lefty David Price, or that the White Sox have not ruled out entertaining deals for lefty Chris Sale. Here at the Winter Meetings, teams not only discuss trades that might happen during the offseason, but float concepts that might come into play deeper into the summer.
"This is the natural time of year where teams exchange ideas and talk about players," Antonetti said. "Very few guys are excluded from those discussions -- throughout the game, not just with our team. Part of my job is to listen and understand how the industry and other teams value our players.
"There are a lot of guys that we've talked about -- and you guys have asked specifically on a number of guys for now three years -- and all of those guys are still here. And the answer is the same."
Antonetti was referring to Masterson and Cabrera, who have both been the subject of trade rumors during past Winter Meetings.
Coming off a 92-win season, and hoping to reach the playoffs again, Cleveland is not in a position to part with Masterson at the moment. The club currently stands to lose roughly 350 innings with Ubaldo Jimenez (unsigned) and Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million deal with the A's) electing for free agency. The Indians are in the market for adding starting pitching -- not shedding it.
In fact, the Indians are still open to exploring a contract extension for Masterson.
The pitcher's agent, Randy Rowley, might lean toward waiting to see what the right-hander could fetch in a free-agent market that continues to yield excessively lucrative contracts for starters. Masterson, who earned $5,687,500 last year, is expected to net north of $9 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility this winter.
Teams often discuss extensions during arbitration talks, but Antonetti would not speak to the current status of negotiations with Masterson.
"What I can say," Antonetti said, "is how much we appreciate the contributions Justin has made to our organization. We'd love for him to be an Indian long term."
Last season, the 28-year-old Masterson won 14 games, posted a 3.45 ERA and struck out 195 batters in 193 innings. Over the past three years, the big righty has averaged 205 innings with an overall record of 37-35 and a 3.86 ERA. Right now, Masterson is expected to return as the staff leader for a group that projects to include Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and an undetermined fifth starter.
If Cleveland intends to invest in a long-term contract with Masterson, it makes sense to first look into what kind of return he could get on the trade market.
"Part of anything is knowing what your alternatives are," Antonetti said. "You want to have an understanding of what your options are, so we spend a lot of time, and a lot of teams spend time, exploring interest, exploring fits and exploring player values."
The same applies to Cabrera, though it is less clear whether the shortstop is a part of the Indians' long-term plans.
The 28-year-old endured a down season in 2013, turning in his third consecutive subpar second half. Over the 2011-13 seasons, Cabrera posted a .241/.299/.390 slash line in 809 plate appearances in the second half, compared to a .280/.344/.462 showing in 1,036 first-half plate appearances. Next season, Cabrera is scheduled to earn $10 million with the Tribe.
The Indians have an experienced backup shortstop in the fold in Mike Aviles and highly-touted shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor getting closer to knocking on the big league's door. Under the circumstances, Cleveland is undoubtedly open to listening to offers for Cabrera at the very least.
In terms of negotiating contract extensions, Antonetti prefers to do everything possible to get something done before the start of the regular season.
"Part of what we try to do organizationally is minimize distractions for our players," Antonetti said. "Any time you introduce contract discussions during the season, you open up the potential for a distraction. We don't have any hard and fast rules about not negotiating during a season, but our preference is to have things resolved before we got to that point."
Antonetti also cautioned against reading too much into the trade rumors that surfaced on Tuesday.
"I would be careful believing what you read," he said.