Via MLBTR, the Rangers have reached an agreement with Brandon Webb. Hopefully you weren’t expecting the Yankees to sign him, because all indications were that they had minimal interest at best. Can’t say I blame them, expecting a guy to rebound from major shoulder surgery after throwing four innings total in the last 26 months isn’t much more than a pipe dream. They need sure innings more than anything.
Via George King, the Yankees are monitoring the progress of free agent right-hander Brandon Webb, but “they don’t appear to be in a hurry to do anything.” The now 31-year-old former Cy Young Award winner has started one game in the last two years because of major shoulder surgery, so the chances he turns back into the guy that racked up 19.9 fWAR from 2006 through 2008 are the longest of long shots. The truth of the matter is that no one has any idea what he’s capable of right now, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yanks target a little more a sure thing instead, even if it’s just Jeff Francis. At least he got on the mound for 100+ innings last season.
With Cliff Lee officially a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Yankees are left trying to salvage their offseason by spreading their money around and shoring up several aspects of their team. There simply aren’t any other high-end starters on the market to go after. The process started with the now completed Russell Martin signing, and today Joel Sherman reported the Yanks will “try to pluck a veteran starter with good stuff but questionable health (off the free agent market) and have him pitch as long and as hard as he can, basically until his arm blows up or a better option comes along.
Those kinds of pitchers are always plentiful on the free agent market, and they’re popular targets in the blogosphere because we dream of them being healthy and returning to what they once were. With Lee off the market and not in New York, it’s inevitable that we’ll have to look at some of these guys as potential targets, so let’s get it out of the way now. I’m going to do something a little different though, instead of actively campaigning for one or two players I’m just going to state the facts and let you decide who’s worth the gamble. Talk about ’em in the comments…
Francis is kind of the exception here because he isn’t actually coming off an injury. After missing the entire 2009 season due to shoulder surgery, the 29-year-old lefty did manage to make 19 starts (and one relief appearance) while pitching to a 3.88 FIP in 104.1 innings for the Rockies in 2010. His ERA was ugly (5.00), but we all know that isn’t the best way to judge performance. Francis is a generic soft-tossing command lefty, spotting a fastball, changeup, and curveball on the corners of the plate. He misses just enough bats (8.4% swing-and-miss rate, 5.8 K/9 since 2008) and doesn’t walk many guys (2.6 BB/9 career, removing intentional walks), and he also gets a pretty nice amount of ground balls (~45% over the last few years) as well. Francis’ margin for error is small, but the track record is there.
The one-time Red Sox whipping boy made nine highly effective starts (3.40 ERA, 1.1 fWAR) for the Cardinals this year before a shoulder strain ended his season. Penny is a known quantity at this point; he’s struck out a touch more than five-and-a-half batters per nine innings over the last four seasons (~7% swings-and-misses) despite having the stuff to do more, and his walk rate has been below three per nine in five of the last seven years. Penny has always been a ground ball guy but took it to the extreme in St. Louis last year (52.8%), completely unsurprisingly given Dave Duncan’s track record. Like Francis, Penny does have World Series experience, and he did not have surgery for his injury, which is always a plus.
Ah yes, our old friend. Wang, now 30, was last an effective pitcher in June of 2008, when he infamously injured his foot running the bases in Houston. Surgery to repair damage to the capsule in his shoulder followed, and he was unable to reach the bigs for the Nationals in 2010 despite proclamations from his agent. Everyone reading this knows the deal with the Wanger, so I don’t need to get into the specifics. Extreme sinkerballer, lots of weak contact, won’t strike anyone out. Seen it, lived it, got a t-shirt.
Webb is the big name of the group, the former Cy Young Award winner than racked up 19.9 fWAR from 2006-2008, the second most in baseball. Now 31, Webb hasn’t pitched in what amounts to two seasons due to labrum damage, and reports out of Instructional League a few weeks ago had him sitting the low-80’s with his once devastating sinker (18.1% fly balls in his career, completely ridiculous). There’s a belief that those reports are overblown in an effort to keep his price down, however. We really don’t know what Webb is capable of right now; I don’t think he can rebound and be the beast (3.23 FIP from ’06-’08, again behind only CC) he once was. If he’s 60% of that guy though, it’d be an upgrade to the back of the Yankees’ rotation. For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman reported today that the Yankees “don’t like him all that much.”
Young is a rather unique pitcher, relying on extreme deception and size (dude’s 6-foot-10) rather than pure stuff. He missed all but four starts in 2010 due to a shoulder strain, and when he did pitch he averaged just five innings per start with a 3.88 FIP. His always pedestrian fastball dipped into the mid-80’s over the last two years, but he’s so big and hides the ball so well that it looks like he’s releasing the ball ten feet away from the batter. That’s how he’s managed an above average swing-and-miss rate (9.4%) and generally avoided getting clobbered. Young certainly benefited from Petco Park in San Diego, owning a 53% fly ball rate for his career, far and the away the highest in baseball during that time. His margin for error is microscopic these days.
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Remember, these players are looking for one thing: an opportunity. Well, that and money, we can’t forget that. Those five guys are trying to reestablish their value, so they’ll join the team that gives them the best chance to accrue innings and prove they’re healthy and productive so they can go back out on the market next year and cash in. If that means a year with the Nats or Pirates, so be it. Don’t expect the Yanks to be able to sign two or three of them either, the more there are, the less of an opportunity they’ll have.
So which one is your preferred target? Any other that weren’t covered here?
This week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag features less gibberish than usual and queries about Brandon Webb, Arthur Rhodes, and the designated hitter spot. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to submit your questions at any time. Let’s get to it…
Carl asks: Wouldn’t it make sense for the Yankees to offer Brandon Webb a two year, incentive laden contract sort of how Jon Lieber’s was. That way he can take his time coming back this year, and be 100% next year. In that scenario he becomes insurance in case CC opts out.
The reports on Webb from Instructional League were not good at all, he was in the low-to-mid-80’s and was basically throwing junk. Remember, he’s missed what amounts to two full seasons because of a frayed labrum and a debridement in his shoulder, which is serious stuff. The odds of him turning back into the guy that was arguably the best pitcher in baseball from 2005 through 2009 are extremely small. I’m in favor of signing anyone to a low risk contract (i.e. short term, low base salary with incentives), though I would expect absolutely nothing out of Webb going forward.
Make sure you look at this from his point of view too, what is Webb looking for? He wants an opportunity to show he’s healthy and can be effective. He just spent two seasons on the shelf and is already 31, I doubt he wants to take his time coming back and then have to force his way into a contender’s rotation. I bet he signs a a one-year deal with a team that will put him in the Opening Day rotation no questions asked.
Dan asks: Is Arthur Rhodes a guy the Yankees will/should watch closely this offseason? Lefty Reliever, yeah he’s old but his last 3 seasons have been awesome, his groundball rate is great and he wouldn’t cost a draft pick. Perfect fit for the Yanks?
Nah, he’s on borrowed time right now. His 2010 season was good overall (3.24 FIP, held lefties to a .257 wOBA) but tremendously deceiving. Rhodes got taken deep three times by lefties after the end of June, and overall they hit .273/.298/.591 off him after June 26th. Unsurprisingly, he dealt with a foot injury (plantar fasciitis, which hurts like a bitch and doesn’t go away easily) in the second half. Rhodes is also 41 years old already and his stuff lost its luster as the season progressed, so there are red flags everywhere.
Someone’s absolutely going to overpay for that All Star appearance (probably the Reds), and I would rather it not be the Yankees. I think Keith Law put it best when he said Rhodes is “a bad month away from a forced retirement.” Given all of the lefty relief options on the market, they can afford to avoid to steer clear of this one.
Mark asks: Say Jorge retires or is strictly used as a back-up catcher in 2012. Any possibility that ARod becomes the permanent DH and Jeter moves to 3B? Could this be a scenario that is brought up during this year’s negotiations?
Sure, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it. It would be rather foolish to move A-Rod off of third base in the fifth year of a ten-year deal, especially when it’s not absolutely necessary yet. They need to extract as much value of him as possible, which means leaving him in the field until he needs a Rascal Scooter.
I stand by my belief that Derek Jeter will be the shortstop for the Yankees until the end of the time he decides to hang ’em up, and I suspect he and his agent wants him to be paid as such. The Yankees could discuss a potential position change during this discussions, but I can’t imagine it’ll have any effect. And I also have zero expectation of Jeter going to the team and suggesting a position change until he becomes embarrassingly bad out there, and even then you’re probably pushing your luck.
While Yankee fans do not often find themselves much concerned with the affairs of the Arizona Diamondbacks, this off-season may see a prized D-back pitcher hit free agency. Brandon Webb is Arizona’s equivalent to Chien-Ming Wang. A sinkerball specialist, who, by the way, like Wang, Webb has missed nearly all of 2009 with shoulder problems. His contract features an $8.5 million team option that may push Webb into a shallow free agent pitching pool.
Over the last week, news from the desert has focused around this bonus. The Arizona Front Office wants to restructure the option to be incentive-based. After all, there is no guarantee that Webb will rebound after throwing just four innings at the Major League level this year (and all on Opening Day). But Webb will have none of it. He says he’ll be healthy for 2010 and is more than willing to test the free agent waters.
Earlier today, Chris at iYankees pointed the way to a rumor linking Webb with the Yanks, among other teams. In a video post, Buster Olney reports that the Yankees could offer Webb a one-year deal come this off-season. The usual suspects — Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, and White Sox — also figure to keep an eye on Webb. That ought to keep Webb’s value up.
Olney’s report is contingent upon the D-backs’ desire to save $6.5 million. If they don’t pick up Webb’s option, the buy-out is $2 million, and sources in Arizona anticipate Webb returning next year. It is, however, nice to dream.
For his career, Brandon Webb has an ERA+ of 142 and a K/9 IP of 7.3. Before coming down with a shoulder injury this year, he had never missed a start. He throws a heavy and hard sinker similar to Wang’s, but unlike the Yanks’ injured pitcher, Webb has better command of his secondary pitches. He uses those pitches to get the strike outs that Wang doesn’t.
Heading into next year, the Yankees will have CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett atop their rotation. Joba Chamberlain, despite the posturing, will be there, and Andy Pettitte will probably return. The last spot then will go to some mix of Phil Hughes, Al Aceves, Ian Kennedy or Chien-Ming Wang. If Webb is a free agent, adding him to the mix would give the Yanks some stellar depth. As fun as it is to ponder, I wouldn’t count on it though.