Brandon Webb: Should he stay or should he go?

The end of the World Series - about which, the less said the better - means that Arizona now have five days to decide whether or not to exercise their option on Brandon Webb for 2010. It's a choice that, depending on how he pitches, could define the entire season - we saw how much the rotation struggled to replace him this year, with the Diamondbacks dropping to their worst record since 2004. On the other hand, with a below-average payroll, the team can hardly afford to take on another bust of a contract.

I asked the team here at the Pit to write about the choice that will shortly have to be made by Josh Byrnes and his front-office staff. They had no requirement on length or position, and the only requirement was that they write their piece independently, to avoid the potential of influencing each other. After the jump, you'll find all the posts I received in response - obviously, there's going to be some overlap of points, but I think these just emphasize the importance of these angles.

Jim McLennan
The timing of Webb's injury could hardly have been worse for the Diamondbacks. One year earlier, he'd simply still have been under contract; one year later, and he'd be a free agent, and probably someone else's problem. But the decision is now strictly the team's, and they are faced with a pig in a poke. [I hope this phrase isn't uniquely British!] The franchise has to decide whether or not to pay $8.5 million to someone who has hardly thrown a meaningful pitch in thirteen months. There's not even any solid rehab work on which to go: even though the surgery happened three months ago, and went well by all accounts, he is still some way from any kind of mound work.

To be honest, I am probably more concerned that surgeons didn't find anything significantly wrong with his shoulder when they opened it up. Sure, they tidied up a little in there, tucked in the loose ends. But that could be like making the bed to get rid of a bad smell in your bedroom - it won't help if your dog has crapped in the closet. I'd probably have been happier if they'd found a parasitic pitching goblin, gnawing on Webb's labrum. At least we'd then know what the problem was. Instead, there's a nagging fear that the real issue is unresolved.

Balancing that, is the fact that Webb's option will "really" only cost the team $6 million, because even if we choose not to exercise it, we still need to pay him a $2 million buyout [a hefty sum, though until this year, the odds of the buyout being exercise were slim indeed]. One imagines Webb would not mind that at all, since he would likely command more than $6.5m as an unrestricted free-agent. It would present him and his agent with an interesting dilemma. Take a one-year contract, hope he stays healthy and go for the big bucks in 2011? Or get a longer, guaranteed contract to provide security if his arm breaks down again?

From the team's perspective, however, the buyout does make the decision easier, since they are on the hook for $2m either way. The difference between Webb and no-Webb, in terms of available payroll to sign a replacement, is somewhat less than we paid for Jon Garland: a starter coming off a down season, at a time of economic turmoil. That's really what it comes down to: if the team thinks Webb will be at or above league-average in 2010, then the cost is more than reasonable. While there is clearly a significant chance that won't happen, there's also a chance (about the same, I'd say) he'll be the Webb of old, giving us a 1-2 punch anyone in the NL will envy. As ever, the reality will likely be somewhere in the middle, but I think the odds are that Webb will be better than anyone else we can get for the same cash. Exercise the option: YES

Zephon
In my opinion, picking up Webb's option is an easy decision. Yes there is the chance that he doesn't throw a single pitch next year, or that he doesn't pitch as well as he did before, but I think we're better off rolling the dice on Webb's option. I'd hate to see him go to some other team, and pitch as well as he did before, and blow our chance at resigning him to a long term contract. 8.5m is a bargain for even a league average innings eater, let alone a possible Cy Young caliber pitcher. Picking up Webb's option gives the team good PR with possible free agents, and makes our team a more attractive place to play. In addition, declining Webb's option would result in a lot of negative PR with the local media and fans. Webb is one of the most popular and well known Diamondback. He's a home grown Cy Young award winner. Why not take the chance with him? Pick up the option, see how he pitches next year, and either revisit a contract extension if we're in the pennant race, or trade him for prospects if we're out of it.

PROS

  • If Brandon Webb comes back and pitches at least at a league average level, the option is a no brainer. In this market, league average or better starting pitching at 8.5 million is a bargain.
  • If Webb returns to his previous CY young-worthy form, the option is even more of a bargain.
  • We'll be hard pressed to find another starter via FA who can put up Webb type numbers for 8.5m or less.
  • If we pick up the option, and Webb comes back at league average or better, there's a good chance he'll sign an extension. If we don't pick up the option, there's zero chance of that happening.
  • Without a healthy Webb or equivalent starting pitcher, there's really no chance of us making the post season. With a healthy Haren, Webb, Sherzer, Buckner + FA starting pitcher, we have one of the better rotations in the league IMHO.
  • Picking up Webb's option makes us more attractive to those injured free agents out there. A Harden, Sheets, Et Cetera will find Arizona a more attractive place to pitch if they see us treating our injured starting pitchers well.
  • There's also the PR hit we'd take if don't pick up his option. Picking up Webb's option shows the public that the team is dedicated to keeping it's players, and that we're dedicated to winning.

CONS

  • There's always the chance that Webb doesn't throw a single pitch in 2010, or he pitches at replacement level. If that happens, we'd have been better off finding a replacement via free agency.
  • There's also the chance that, even though Webb comes back and recovers, that he re-injures his shoulder, and is out the rest of the year.
  • If he doesn't throw a pitch, or is injured the majority of next year, we're out 8.5 million, which could have spent on another starting pitcher, a reliever, or a first or second basemen.

Exercise the option: YES

soco
I want to be the dissenting vote, but given the free agent market this year I can't bring myself to do it. It would be nice for the Diamondbacks to have another $10 million to spend this offseason, but if last year was any indication, it won't much matter and Webb will have at the very least a good year somewhere else. Imagine if he gets picked up by the Dodgers. Even if he goes far away from the division, there's no guaranteed that the Diamondbacks will be able to pull off a deal that brings in a Type A offensive weapon, and that's assuming the Diamondbacks even go that direction. If Webb is let go then that's also another slot in the rotation that needs to be filled, soit effectively becomes a salary swap with someone who most likely will be well below Webb's talent. The Diamondbacks cannot afford to backslide on the rotation. Exercise the option: YES

kishi
First off, let's look at who we're talking about. Brandon Webb. We all know the basics- Cy Young winner, went to three straight All Star Games, threw 42 consecutive scoreless innings in '07- for years, Webb has been one of the brightest beacons of success on this team, and we've had him at a bargain price. Now, that changed last season when he went had one bad outing to start the season, and then went down with injury. But let's just take a second to consider what he did before that. Here's a number for you: 143. That's Webb's ERA+ from his debut in 2003 to the end of 2008. When looking at that pitchers with 900+ innings during that stretch, Webb is only second to Johan Santana by ERA+. Santana, notably, is the same age as Webb and made just under $19 million last year. In fact, the rest of the guys in the top ten, save Ben Sheets who didn't play, averaged about $15 million last season. Webb, in comparison, has made about $20 million in his seven years in the majors. Webb has been a bargain.

Okay, yes, I know, the question isn't "How good was Webb" but rather "How good will he be?" Answer? I don't know. All I know about labrum injuries, I learned from Dr. Jim McLennan of the Arizona Snakepit Medical Center, so I can't tell you anything someone else knows better. But for the money we'd be giving him, $6.5 million, what could we get? Well, let's look at last season- what did that money buy you on the free agent market? $5.5 million gave you Braden Looper, career ERA+ of 103. $5 million could get you Randy Wolf, who had his own surgery for a frayed labrum. Spend a little more money, and you see someone like Jon Garland. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to wager (someone else's money) that Webb's going to be as good or better than what we expected out of Garland. Do I think he'll be the ace we saw in 2008, giving us great pitching and 22 wins? No. But do I think he'll still put up some good numbers and give us our money's worth? Yes.

Spend the money- bring back Webb. Exercise the option: YES

snakecharmer (belatedly)
My thoughts on Webb's option fluctuated over the course of the season. In Spring Training, I honestly wasn't sure. I was reading lots of different thoughts - yes, we need the starter, no, he's not worth it - and I didn't really know one way or the other. After Webb's injury and subsequent problems coming back from it, I became very worried that the front office would choose not to pick up. Then came the trade deadline, and gone was Jon Garland, and NOT in exchange for a pitcher. I honestly think that the trading of Jon Garland, the struggles of all the replacement starters, and the subsequent chatter of Doug Davis being somewhat unhappy and wanting to look elsewhere for financial support makes it a much easier choice that the Diamondbacks choose to spend (net) $8.5 million to keep a definite #2/1-type starter around for another year. Exercise the option: YES

Conclusion
Fortunately, it seems the front-office are likely to be on the same page as everyone here, with the rumors tending strongly towards Webb's option being exercised. There's no doubt, everyone accepts it is a roll of the die with regard to his recovery, and if it doesn't work out, then 2010 could be just as disappointing as 2009 in the desert. But there aren't many, if any, potentially better starters going to be available to Arizona for the money this winter, and the upside, if he's anywhere close to 2005-2008 form, is obvious.

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