Boston Red Sox: 5 Reasons They Should Sign Free-Agent Brandon Webb
Fame is fleeting.
Just ask Brandon Webb, 2006 National League Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star.
He finished second in Cy Young balloting in 2007 and 2008. He won 22 games in 2008 and has pitched in only one game since: Opening Day of 2009, when he went four innings and had to come out because of shoulder problems.
Webb, who has a career record of 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA, underwent rotator cuff surgery in August.
It's possible that Webb may never pitch again. After all, the Rangers took a chance on him last year with a $3 million, one-year deal, and he never made it to the mound due to rotator cuff problems.
The point is, his track record has at least earned him a look. What is there to lose with an incentive-laden minor league deal?
The best case scenario is that the 31-year-old returns healthy and effective after having his second shoulder surgery last August.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Webb is planning to throw for major league teams “sometime in March” in the hopes of landing a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training.
Webb Has the Credentials Worthy of the Risk
Prior to the 2009 season, Webb was one of the very best starting pitchers in major league baseball. From his debut in 2003, the eighth-round draft choice of the Diamondbacks in 2000 pitched 1315.2 innings of 3.24 ERA ball for Arizona, winning 87 games. He won the 2006 Cy Young.
The following year he threw 42 consecutive innings without allowing a run. He was second in Cy Young balloting, carrying the Diamondbacks to the NL West Title and the NLCS.
In 2008 at age 29, he won 22 games and was once again the runner-up for the Cy Young.
Although not an overpowering pitcher, he has averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings and only three walks. More importantly, his devastating sinker and very effective changeup have resulted in a 62.4 percent ground ball rate, highest in the modern era for anyone who has pitched more than 700 innings.
Then the shoulder injuries derailed what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
He started on opening day of 2009 but had to be removed after four innings. He hasn't thrown a big league pitch since.
Why not give every benefit of the doubt to that kind of track record?
Given His Recent Track Record, There Will Be Little Competition for His Services
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According to Steve Adams of MLB TradeRumors, as of January, 2011 Webb had spent a total of 372 days on the disabled list during his recovery from shoulder surgery in 2009.
That was a year ago, and his 2011 shutdown only served to run that number even higher.
Although Webb's agent Jonathan Maurer has been making positive noises about his client's rehab, chances are GMs are not listening.
After all, it was Maurer who told Tim Dierkes of MLBTR a year ago that "Brandon is hungry, excited, and ready to start 30 plus times in 2011. There is nothing to indicate he won't, with all the work he has put in and his consistent offseason workout program."
After playing the Cubs and Nationals off against the Rangers, Maurer got the Rangers to bite on a $3 million, one-year deal for 2011. Despite all the hope and hoopla last winter, he never took the mound once for Nolan Ryan's club due to recurring rotator cuff problems. By July he was slated for another surgery, as reported by Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas. Dr. Keith Meister, who operated on Webb's shoulder surgery in 2009, performed the second operation on August 1st.
Original predictions were that his 2012 season was also at risk, and Kirk Bohls analyzed pitching arm injuries for the Austin American-Statesman. He points out that shoulder injuries—especially those requiring rotator cuff surgery—are far more difficult to bounce back from than elbow injuries resolved by Tommy John surgery. The latter is easier to recover from, according to Bohls, because surgeons transplant new tissue to the area. "Think of replacing a worn shoelace" Bohls writes. "With shoulders, the analogy is more like tread on a tire, and pitchers have only so much."
Bohls quotes one major league trainer with 25-plus years of big league service. "About 85 percent of pitchers come back from elbow surgery to their previous level," he said. "Less than 50 percent with shoulder surgery do."
Drew Silva of HardBallTalk.com believes that Webb has a way to go before he convinces a team he can contribute. "He was not cracking the 85 barrier on the radar gun in recent workouts, and his sinker was no longer acting the way it should," he wrote.
The sinker may be of greater concern than the velocity. As Maurer pointed out a year ago, Webb was only throwing 87-90 mph during the 2008 season, when he won 22 games. The fact that he never really had to rely on a blazing fastball will work in Webb's favor.
Kirk Bohls of the Austin Statesman wrote, "He relied on a heavy sinker and a deadly changeup to twice lead the National League in wins. And he's always thought lighting up a radar gun was overrated, citing the patron saint of finesse pitchers everywhere, Greg Maddux."
The point is, teams are not banging down Webb's door. Now would be a good time for the Red Sox to make an overture.
Webb Just Does Not Give Up, and He Still Has Something to Prove
There is one consistent message that comes through loud and clear: the former Cy Young winner still hopes to pitch in the majors again.
Despite one setback after another, he keeps coming back for more. His agent Jonathan Maurer consistently points to "all the work he has put in and his consistent offseason workout program."
After not throwing a baseball competitively for 17 months, Webb pitched in three instructional league games in September and October of 2010. Perhaps he rushed it to get ready for 2011.
Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman did an in-depth article on rotator cuff problems in general and Webb's situation in particular. He tells of former major league pitcher Terry Clark, who is the voice of experience when it comes to rotator cuff operations. Clark had four of them, one a year from 1996 through 1999.
Webb has also talked to other pitchers who have come back successfully after rotator cuff surgery. Orel Hershiser had several more good seasons after his operation. Webb also spoke with Colorado's Jeff Francis and San Diego's Chris Young.
He thinks he can still get major league hitters out.
It Would Be a Low Risk, High-Reward Signing
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Webb knows that with his injury history and his difficulty in rehabbing, no team is going to repeat the Rangers' mistake of a year ago. He will be lucky to find a minor league deal.
Complicating his situation is the fact that he's probably not going to be ready for the start of the season, no matter what his agent says. (Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Webb began a throwing program in late December and his agent, Jonathan Maurer, said his client's arm feels "strong and loose.'')
That need for more rehab further limits the number of teams who might take a chance on him, hoping for a contribution later in the year. No matter what, he's not going to be the same overpowering star he was a few years ago, even if he does make it back to the bigs. He will have to reinvent himself according to what his body tells him. Perhaps he will come back (if he does at all) as a reliever.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Webb is planning to throw for major league teams “sometime in March,” and is hoping to earn a minor league contract.
The Red Sox have already taken a chance on some questionable arms this spring; what's wrong with another long shot, especially since knuckleballer Charlie Haeger is now lost for the season? Yes, it's possible Webb's done at age 30. Maybe it's even probable.
But what does it cost to find out? After all, this guy has a career 62.4 percent ground-ball rate, the highest in MLB history of anyone with 700 innings or more since they began keeping records of this stat.
There Is Some Medical Evidence to Support Taking a Chance on Him
The fact that it took Webb 17 months to throw competitively after his first surgery, followed by the fact that he then had to shut it down again for a second procedure, leads to a pessimistic analysis of his chances.
However, there are a couple of rays of light.
First, consider this medical report from the World of Orthopedics website, which provides some interesting detail on his 2009 surgery:
2009 Webb did not injure his Rotator Cuff, but rather his teres major muscle. This muscle is found in the rear part of the shoulder area, next to where the shoulder blade is located. He only strained his teres major so it did not require major reconstructive surgery. Surgeons had to go in and clean up the area around the muscle to release the tightening sensation he was feeling from the strain. Even though his surgery wasn’t as major as it could have been, it will still require months of physical rehabilitation.
But Webb's rehab took a lot longer than anyone expected. Why?
As BJ Maack wrote on HardBallReport, "Sometimes it just does....sometimes the surgery needs longer to settle in.....sometimes a change in the rehab program is needed. Point being, it just is this way for Webb."
Then, last July, Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors reported "Rangers pitcher Brandon Webb will undergo surgery on his right shoulder with the intent to pitch again in 2012, according to his agent Jonathan Maurer. This will not be a full surgery of the rotator cuff but it will prevent him from throwing for four months."
I added the italics to emphasize the key words: "not a full surgery."
Nevertheless, as Maack points out, there is still a lot of work ahead of him.
The athlete then needs to regain his full range of motion, as well as work to get the muscles strong again. All of this without ever throwing a ball for several months. THEN comes throwing the ball, getting used to the throwing motion again.....THEN comes long toss.....THEN comes mound work.
Ultimately, former major league pitcher Terry Clark (who underwent four rotator cuff procedures) says, it will come down to Webb trusting his shoulder and completely cutting loose.
"The first time I was told to throw the ball as hard as I could, I was scared to death," Clark told the Austin Statesman. "You've got to trust it."
At the start of 2011, Webb's surgeon, Dr. Keith Meister, told MLB Trade Rumors that he "fully expects him to prepare at a normal pace to be ready when camp opens in February, for whomever signs him."
Let's see what he says this time.
He's a Used Car Salesman, Why Shouldn't the Red Sox Trust Him?
This is not Webb's lot, but you get the idea…
To end on a lighter note, The Austin American-Statesman reported that Webb's offseason business is running a used-car lot in Ashland, KY, close to his home.
Webb and his wife Alicia own a nine-hole golf course. The golf course parking lot is also the showroom for the autos, and sales are consummated in the golf clubhouse.
Webb, a former pitcher at the University of Kentucky, partnered up with his brother-in-law, Matt Suman, and named the business H&L Motors.
"It stands for Harry and Lloyd, the characters in ‘Dumb and Dumber, " Webb said. "It's our favorite movie."
"My brother-in-law has been selling cars for most of his life and…I was like, 'All right, let's do it.'"
They inventory between 15 and 20 cars. Strangely enough for a multi-millionaire ballplayer, these aren't Porsches and BMWs.
"We specialize in high-mileage cars, too. If y'all need one I can definitely get you taken care of. ... I'm actually at the dealership right now," Webb told the reporter.
Here's hoping he also has a high-mileage arm.