Justin Masterson was a terrific relief pitcher in his one-plus years for the Red Sox, a sinker-throwing righty who could induce double play after double play out of the bullpen.
But the Red Sox devoted spring training to preparing Masterson as a starting pitcher, and when Daisuke Matsuzaka landed on the disabled list for the first time, it was Masterson who assumed his spot in the starting rotation. Had Masterson remained with the Red Sox, he would have finished out the season as a reliever but almost certainly would have gone to spring training as a starting pitcher once again.
Starting pitchers simply are more valuable than relief pitchers. Part of the reason the Indians traded for him, in fact, was his potential as a starting pitcher in the mold of Derek Lowe. He's not an ace, certainly, but he certainly could develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter on a contending team.
It's insane to trade a catcher in the mold of Victor Martinez for a package prominently featuring an eighth-inning reliever no matter how much salary a team has to slash. A trade for an innings-eating starting pitcher, on the other hand, is a different story entirely.
Masterson justified the Indians' interest with a solid second half, capping it off with a complete-game gem against the White Sox on Wednesday in which he struck out 12 and surrendered just four hits and a single earned run.
"He was meant to be a starter," said Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, a close friend of Masterson since their tenure on Cape Cod four years ago. "He could have been a great reliever, but he's a big workhorse, a big-bodied guy who's going to be able to eat up a lot of innings.
"That pays some good money down the road once you hit arbitration and free agency. It'll end up being a good opportunity for him."
Oh, yeah, that's part of it, too: Because there's so much more demand for starting pitchers than relief pitchers, the salary structure for starting pitchers starts at a much higher level. Mike Timlin, one of the best middle relievers in baseball for more than a decade, earned more than $5 million in a season just once in his career. Lowe, on the other hand, hasn't earned less than $5 million in a season since 2003.
That brings us, in a way, back to Bard.
The rookie has emerged this season as a future lights-out closer, a flame-thrower with a 100-mile-an-hour arm.
But he came out of college as a starting pitcher and only moved to the bullpen after a disastrous first full year in the minor leagues. It could be argued, though, that his terrible year had more to do with adjustments to his repertoire than any issues with starting.
And like Masterson, he's a big guy -- 6-foot-4, 200 pounds -- who likely would be able to hold up to the rigors of throwing 200 innings. He wouldn't throw 100 miles an hour as a starter, certainly, but he has a slider and a changeup and still ought to be able to throw somewhere around 94 or 95.
Starters are more valuable than relievers. Starters earn more money than relievers.
As impressive as Bard looked as a relief pitcher this season, you can bet both he and the Red Sox will think long and hard about making him a starting pitcher in time for spring training next year.