Brandon Webb Sweepstakes Down to Nationals and Rangers with Cubs Out

Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 21, 2010

Brandon Webb
Brandon WebbRonald Martinez/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs are out of the Brandon Webb sweepstakes, leaving the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers as the two main (and likely only) suitors remaining for the 30-year-old pitcher.

All indications are that Webb, who missed all of last season and all but one game the year before, is ready to resume normal baseball activities this spring. His doctor said he is 95 percent healthy and will be 100 percent by the time the season begins.

Two teams really want to sign him. The Texas Rangers went to the World Series last fall and are desperately trying to replace ace Cliff Lee, who spurned them for the Philadelphia Phillies. Even without Lee, the Rangers seem able to repeat their American League championship and Webb could instantly be part of a winning organization.

On the other hand, Webb, if healthy, could be the final piece that transforms a moribund losing franchise into a winner, and that might mean something to the former Cy Young Award winner. The Nationals certainly have the money to pay Webb, as their 2011 obligations are still less than last season's 69-win team.

If Webb likes playing in front of friends and family, his hometown of Ashland, Kentucky is just a seven-hour drive from Nationals Park.

Add the fact that both Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo and Webb are Diamondback alumni, and you have two very clear options for Webb.

If Webb wants to win now, he signs with the Rangers. But if being part of the rejuvenation of a franchise is important, if being near familiar surroundings and working for people you know means anything, then Washington has to be his destination.

Webb's agent has been very clear that he is expecting the type of money that former ace Ben Sheets got from the Oakland Athletics last season. The oft-injured Sheets, who averaged 11 wins and a 3.72 ERA over nine seasons with Milwaukee, signed a $10 million contract last year after missing all of the 2009 season due to injury.

The Athletics got hosed big time. Sheets went 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts.

So if the Nationals really want Brandon Webb, it's going to cost them $8-10 million, and there is no guarantee that he'll do anything more this season than Chien-Ming Wang did for the Nationals last year.

To be clear, when healthy, Brandon Webb is in a different class than Wang or Sheets. Over seven seasons, Webb averaged 15-11, 3.27, 8.2/3.0/7.3 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has a near-perfect sinker and a plus fastball. He's an innings-eater and gives up very few gap extra-base hits or home runs.

In 2007, Webb tossed three consecutive shutouts and amassed 42 consecutive scoreless innings, one of the all-time best streaks in major league history.

My guess is that Webb isn't going to get anywhere near Ben Sheets money from last year. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if he gets $5 million or so in base salary and another $4-6 million in incentive money. At that price, the Nationals (or Rangers) can afford to take a chance that he will return to form.

There is a 50-50 chance that Chien-Ming Wang returns to pitch effectively in the major leagues this year. There is also a 50-50 chance that Brandon Webb will again dominate major leagues hitters this summer.

But there is a near 100 percent chance that one of them makes it all the way back. And if the Nationals end up with both of them, some variation or combination of the two will greatly strengthen the team.

Former starter Matt Chico was designated for assignment earlier today. Let's see if that move was the ying for Brandon Webb's yang.