There has been quite a bit of talk lately about what the Diamondbacks are going to do with Brandon Webb this off-season.
Webb, out with a shoulder injury since a poor Opening Day start where he pitched just four innings and allowed six runs, will be a free agent if the Diamondbacks decline his $8.5 million option for 2010 and instead buyout his contract for $2 million. A decision must be made within five days of the conclusion of the World Series.
For a while I felt like I wouldn’t want to be in Josh Byrnes’ shoes, being the one to make this decision. After all, as a small-market team that has a few bad contracts already, can you risk paying that kind of money to a guy who you’re not even sure will be able to pitch? If you buy him out, however, you’re basically saying goodbye to a career D-back, a CY Young award winner, and probably the best homegrown player the team has ever seen.
Sometime recently, though, it became clear to me. The option should be picked up and Brandon Webb should be a Diamondback at the beginning of next season.
What it comes down to, for me at least, is that there is a $6.5 million difference in the two choices, which is enough money to get a whole lot of non-impact players.
Sure, the D-backs could add some depth to the roster, but is that really worth a possible co-ace to team with Dan Haren?
Let’s take a look at what that kind of money got in last season’s free agent market with regards to pitchers.
Braden Looper signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for $5.5 million, Jamie Moyer signed a contract worth essentially $6.5 million per year with the Phillies, Brad Penny took $5 million from the Red Sox and Andy Pettitte went back to the Yankees for $5.5 million.
Tim Redding and John Smoltz also fit into that category, as does Randy Wolf – who went to the Dodgers. The D-backs themselves added Jon Garland for $6.25 million, but only after they lost Randy Johnson, who signed with the Giants for $8 million.
Of those nine pitchers, only Pettitte and Wolf have had decent seasons with the teams they signed with, and a 13-7 record with a 4.15 ERA for Pettitte is nothing to write home about. Garland has been solid, but is no longer even with the Diamondbacks.
The 2010 free agent class features pitchers like Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, John Lackey, Cliff Lee, and Jason Marquis but there is no way any of them are going to sign for $6.5 million or less.
Basically, what it boils down to is that for the money the team would be saving by letting a 30-year-old Webb go the D-backs are likely to get a whole lot of useless – and in some cases washed up pitchers – in return.
Webb, as we all know, is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball when healthy. But, what if he is brought back and not anything close to what he used to be? What if he makes his 35 starts but is barely mediocre? Worse, what if he gets hurt again and hardly pitches at all? That’s money wasted then, right?
Well sure, it’s wasted, but I would say that given the current state of the Diamondbacks the thought of “throwing away” $6.5 million will not wreck their season or ruin any chances of winning a World Series. In fact, I would say the only real chance this team even has of contending next year is if Webb comes back healthy and effective.
The possibility of having Webb and Haren at the top of the rotation – along with an improving Max Scherzer and an offense that seems to have finally hit its stride – should be enough to make any Diamondbacks fan realize that the team could make some noise next year. And, if he comes back healthy and pitches well, even if the team struggles they could still then look to trade him and get some solid value in return.
Of course, when it comes to Brandon Webb nothing is guaranteed and nobody knows what his career will look like going forward. But what Josh Byrnes and the rest of the D-backs’ management needs to realize is that the risk of losing Webb is significantly less than the reward that could come with keeping him, and a team that has made plenty of contractual mistakes recently cannot afford to make possibly its worst yet.