As expected, the Texas Rangers inked Brandon Webb to a one-year, incentive-laden contract reportedly worth around $3 million guaranteed with a potential for the veteran right-hander to earn between $8 million and $10 million. The deal becomes official following Webb's physical this week, but as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports points out, there aren't any problems expected since Dr. Keith Meister, the club's team physician, performed Webb's surgery in August 2009 and has been assisting with his rehabilitation.
Webb turns 32 in May and started just one game in the last two seasons, leaving his Opening Day start in '09 with shoulder soreness. Prior to his shoulder injury, he had just one career stint on the disabled list, spending 15 days on the DL in 2003 with right elbow tendinitis. Webb was expected to be healthy this year, but he had repeated setbacks in his recovery from surgery and only pitched briefly in the instructional league in October.
From 2005 to 2008, Webb was a bona fide ace and one of baseball's top pitchers, posting a 70-37 record, 3.23 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings during the four-year span, while averaging 34 starts and 232 innings per season. The groundball pitcher also won the '06 National League Cy Young Award, beating former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, and finished second to Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum for the award in '07 and '08 respectively. His only two playoff starts were in '07, as he pitched well (7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K) against the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS and followed with a mediocre outing (6 IP, 4 ER, 4 K) against the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS.
Much like the signing of Rich Harden last offseason, I applaud general manager Jon Daniels and his staff for taking a calculated risk on a hurler with the potential to be a dominant No. 1 starter. However, Harden struggled with control, velocity and injuries last year on his way to a 5-5 record, 5.58 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, which kept him off the playoff roster, so the Rangers are aware how the best intentions can blow up in their face.
Another recent example is Ben Sheets, who the Rangers wisely didn't sign before the '09 season because he failed his physical. He ended up missing the entire year, and Texas strongly considered signing him again before this season, but Oakland surprisingly offered him $10 million. Sheets wasn't himself this year, posting a 4-9 record and 4.53 ERA with the A's before -- you guessed it -- he was shut down because of a torn flexor in his right elbow.
Clearly, inking Webb presents a high level of risk, but if he can stay healthy and return to form, it has the potential to become one of the savviest deals of the offseason. However, the Rangers' shopping isn't done yet. They still need to sign a designated hitter, and there are other question marks in the rotation along with Webb.
Right now, only C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are assured rotation spots, and both of them exceeded expectations last year. While it's possible, the likelihood that Webb returns to normal and there being consistency in the back end of the rotation -- the two who emerge from the group including Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison, Michael Kirkman and Alexi Ogando-- appear slim. (I don't think there's any chance Neftali Feliz is turned into a starter.)
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So while Rangers fans should celebrate the Webb deal, the club shouldn't stop looking for starters. A trade for Fausto Carmona or Matt Garza makes the rotation much more stable, as does signing free-agent Carl Pavano to an affordable contract.
The AL West won't be a cakewalk next year like it was this season, and the Rangers can't afford to wait for another Cliff Lee to become available at the trade deadline if Webb mimics Harden next year because there likely won't be any Cliff Lee-caliber pitchers on the market. Wilson actually tops the list of starters with expiring contracts at the end of next season, with Mark Buehrle as the only other attractive option.
Two old baseball adages are in play here: Pitching wins championships, and you can never have enough pitching.
Texas can return to the playoffs with the rotation as-is, but their path to a second World Series berth would be clearer with another addition.