Indians may turn to Opening Day starter Justin Masterson as playoff closer

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Justin Masterson is still building back arm strength after missing time with an oblique injury late in the season and Chris Perez pitched his way out of the closer job with a brutal final month, so Mark Emery of MLB.com wonders if the Indians could end up giving Masterson a look in the ninth inning.

For now manager Terry Francona is simply saying he’ll use a closer-by-committee approach, but Masterson looked good in some late-September relief outings and has plenty of bullpen experience from his days with the Red Sox. Francona called having him available out of the bullpen “quite a weapon” and “we plan to use it.”

Masterson was Cleveland’s Opening Day starter and was on the verge of his third consecutive 200-inning season before the injury. He still ended up leading the Indians with 193 innings, posting a 3.45 ERA and 195/76 K/BB ratio while allowing just 13 home runs. If the Indians make it deep into the playoffs moving him back into the rotation could be an option, but in the meantime he seems destined to get some high-leverage relief work.

Two of 10 players accept $17.8 million qualifying offers

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First baseman José Abreu and starter Jake Odorizzi have accepted their $17.8 million qualifying offers from the White Sox and Twins, respectively, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. Reliever Will Smith signed a three-year contract with the Braves ahead of Thursday’s 5 PM ET deadline to accept or reject the qualifying offer.

The remaining seven players — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Josh Donaldson, and Marcell Ozuna — have rejected their qualifying offers, per Passan. They are officially free agents and will have draft pick compensation attached to them, a potential deterrent for some interested teams.

The QO is unlikely to materially affect the fates of Cole, Rendon, and Strasburg, but it could limit the markets for the other four players. Reliever Craig Kimbrel and starter Dallas Keuchel both had draft pick compensation attached to them after the 2018 season and didn’t end up signing until June. It seems unlikely that Wheeler, Bumgarner, Donaldson, and Ozuna would have to wait until June next year to sign but it may take a while for their markets to develop.