Now that the holiday season is coming to a close it is a time to look back at what we got…HA-HA, no…I’m really not that spoiled. But for the fans of the Texas Rangers, our front office took care of us with a starting pitcher addition.
The Rangers offseason, to date, has been marred by missing out on some potential frontline stars who would be difference makers for the reigning American League champion Rangers (that doesn’t get old). First, Victor Martinez (C/1B/DH) chose the Detroit Tigers over Texas, then Adam Dunn (1B/OF) went to the Chicago White Sox, next was the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes ending with him going back to the Philadelphia Phillies, and finally Zack Greinke being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. However, here is some quick closure for the fans: Lee going back to Philly – I understand him wanting to go back and wish him well, in the end the amount of money and commitment might (keyword – might) have one day stretched the team too thin, but I'm happy with the fact that he is in the NL and not New York or Anaheim. Greinke traded to the Brewers – no need to fret here, Kansas City wanted to trade him to the NL and when the right package came along they did exactly that.
But enough about what we missed out on because there is no point dwelling on that at all, and I guarantee you the moment after hearing about the Lee signing and Greinke trade, the Rangers front office moved on and went to work on another option. On the day after Christmas the Rangers signed a pitcher we had been pursuing the entire offseason, the former NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb.
This signing isn’t quite official yet, as the he must pass a physical that will take place the next couple days, but from what I have heard there is very little concern about it, no Mike Lowell or Ben Sheets situation here.
The Rangers have not yet announced the exact specifications of Webb’s contract, but it is believed to be only a one year contract without any options for a potential second season. The Rangers have almost assuredly signed Webb to an incentive-laden contract. From what I have heard it is believed to be a $3MM base salary with incentives that could raise his pay to $8-10MM for 2011.
Aside from the physical and the fact that Webb has not pitched in a Major League game since his four-inning start on Opening Day 2009, this is a lower risk / high reward maneuver by the Rangers front office. Now I won’t be naïve and say that Webb will return to the pitcher he was from 2005-2008 when he averaged almost 18 wins (best in the Majors), had a 3.23 ERA, and induced nearly three times as many groundouts as flyouts (best in the Majors). But at the same time, I am one who is a believer that Webb has recovered from his shoulder issues and will be a solid pitcher every fifth day for the Rangers in 2011.
LOW SIDE OF WEBB – Before I get into my excitement about Webb let’s take a realistic, if not skeptical look at the pitcher. Webb had one of the highest workloads of any pitcher while in Arizona, and then misses two years with shoulder issues. Odds say not only will he likely not return to form, but there is a better chance he could be finished as a pitcher. Shoulder injures, as opposed to elbow injures, are much harder for a pitcher to rehab, fully recover, and regain theur strength to return to pitching in baseball.
So with in mind, it is a possibility that Webb could be a huge bust to the point that he doesn’t even make the big league squad. More likely, he will make the starting rotation coming out of Spring Training, but could have a 2011 season lowlighted with multiple visits to the DL. If that happens, the Rangers will promote a AAA starter to become the fifth starter in the “Bigs” and likely look to trade and acquire another starter before the trade deadline. The team would only be out $3MM in payroll and Webb’s career would be all but finished. $3MM is a lot of money, but in terms of MLB payrolls, that is nothing!
Therefore even if Webb has not recovered and has a season full of injures, set-backs, and DL-stints, the Rangers will not be out much money at all.
HIGH SIDE OF WEBB – The Texas Rangers, in fact, just signed the 2005 Cy Young award winner and two-time Cy Young runner-up, a pitcher who from 2005-2008 was notching wins and eating up innings more frequently than any other pitcher in baseball, a right-handed pitcher who during his prime years was said to have “one of the deadliest sinkers of his generation,” and a 31-year-old pitcher with ace-ability looking to re-make a name for himself in 2011.
For a moment let’s say Webb has re-discovered himself from 2005 and becomes the Rangers ace, posting a 20+ win season, an ERA below 3.30, striking out nearly 200 batters, pitching 220+ innings, leading with his “untouchable” sinker, and winning an AL Cy Young award. Then all it will cost the Texas Rangers is about $10MM. Cliff Lee would have been $24-25MM a year and Greinke $27.5MM over the next two seasons.
The team will then be the obvious lead candidates to re-sign him to a 3-5 year long contract, but if he goes elsewhere we would again received Type A free agent draft pick compensation for his services.
So there it is, the worst and best case scenarios for Brandon Webb in a Rangers uniform for the 2011 season. So which will it be? In my opinion, I believe it’ll be neither, more something in the middle, and likely closer to the high side. Webb was not signed to be Plan C, behind Lee and Greinke, on the Rangers list of finding an ace starter. Yes, Webb has that potential, but he was not signed to be that guy, he was signed to be a solid, quality start pitcher every fifth day.
Last season Texas made two risky moves similar to this, Colby Lewis and Rich Harden, and got polar opposite results from those two pitchers. Harden never lived up to his hype, aside from maybe one or two starts, and was barely even considered as a bullpen arm for the postseason. He is now a pitcher for the Oakland A’s, likely a bullpen arm, and honestly he scares me as much as a Pixar movie. On the other side of the coin, Texas signed former Ranger Colby Lewis to a two-year, $5MM contract last season, and struck “GOLD.” Lewis had his struggles during the season, but once the season entered September and October he became a shutdown-, ace-, stud-pitcher in the rotation. Lewis went 3-0, with a 1.71 ERA in his four playoff starts.
Webb could go either direction, we really don’t know until we see him pass the physical, continue to work on his arm strength, and how he performs in Spring Training. But I will say that he won’t do as poorly as Harden, it’s just not possible and besides his base salary is less, so lower risk. I believe Webb could and can be the 2010 version of the Cobra, maybe not as spectacular, but still a reliable starter every fifth day.
Time will only tell on Webb, and as the offseason and Spring Training move along, I will keep you informed on his progress. But today I can tell you that I’m excited by this signing, thrilled they he is not in an Angel, Yankee, or A’s uniform, and the “gut-feeling” I have about Webb is the same that I had last offseason when I demanded that Texas sign free agent OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero.
As always, more to come as it happens…