After a few slow days for baseball news, offseason activity picked up again yesterday when Javier Vazquez officially agreed to a one-year $7MM deal with the Florida Marlins. Word is he turned down multiple two-year deals that would’ve paid him something in the neighborhood of $20MM; apparently he was intent on signing with the team closest to his home in Puerto Rico. While I doubt the Cubs were responsible for one of the multi-year offers he supposedly left on the table (even at $7MM he may not have fit the budget), it’s nice to see they had interest in a nice low-risk, high-reward proposition.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Cubs’ run prevention capabilities, and how his consistently above-average strikeout rates made Vazquez one of the only free agent starters who made sense for them given their collective defensive shortcomings. Based on that logic, Brandon Webb wouldn’t appear to be a great fit for the Cubs right now, but it’s hard not to get excited hearing they’re interested in the former Cy Young winner.
In all likelihood, the Cubs will probably field another poor defensive club next year, particularly in the infield. Hendry is reportedly targeting a strong defender to fill the void at first base–Carlos Pena is said to be the front office’s current favorite among free agent options– but short of replacing Aramis Ramirez at third, there’s only so much that can be done to address this problem. 21 year old Starlin Castro will probably still be a somewhat mistake-prone shortstop next year, Blake DeWitt doesn’t get any love from the advanced defensive metrics, and really, bringing in a defensive whiz at first would only have so much of an impact.learn more about Carlos Zambrano by clicking here
All this would seem to make Webb and his 64.2% career ground ball rate something of a mismatch for this team right now. However, after making just one start in the past two years as a result of an (evidently) serious shoulder injury, Webb is supposedly ready for action and will almost certainly have to settle for a one-year deal, perhaps with vesting options that would reward him for making a certain number of starts. Shoulder injuries often spell doom for pitchers, and the fact he missed all of the past two seasons tells you everything you need to know about the severity of his, but it’s tough to overstate how good this guy was before going down.
From 2006-2008, Webb finished no worse than third in the Cy Young vote, bringing home the hardware in a 2006 campaign where he was worth 7 WAR according to FanGraphs. It’s unlikely he’ll ever recapture that kind of success in the future–almost nobody who suffers an injury like his ever does–but if he’s able to regain just some of his pre-surgery abilities, he’ll be worth every penny at whatever discount rate he ends signing for. And since he clearly doesn’t appear to have rushed through his rehabilitation, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that he can have an immediate impact.
It isn’t every year that former Cy Young winners become available, and even if you think that’s irrelevant since Webb may very well be a different guy after his surgery, the opportunity to bring in a pitcher with his pedigree is an exciting proposition. The reality is, he could be viewed as something of an investment even if the Cubs do hope to get production out of him right away. They have the kind of depth in the rotation that would allow them to wait it out in case he isn’t ready to go on Opening Day, and even if his injury was so bad that he doesn’t make it all the way back until 2012, the reality is whichever team invests in him now will probably be interested in keeping him. Such a commitment would allow the Cubs to reconfigure their infield defense in the future if he ends up becoming a fixture in the rotation.
One other key consideration: previously armed with one of the nastiest sinkers you’ll ever see, Webb has never been dependent on big-time velocity to get people out. While averaging about 88-89 MPH on his fastball on a good day, he’s always been content to allow his defense to do most of the work while he forces hitters to pound the ball into the ground. It’s tough to say what kind of effect the operation may have on the depth and movement of his sinker, but if it only costs him velocity going forward, then there may be reason to be more optimistic about his chances to make it back than your average pitcher who needs a good fastball to have any kind of success.
Hendry hit the jackpot when he bought-low on a recuperating Ryan Dempster back in 2004, and he’s been the best pitcher on the Cubs for a few years now, their shoddy defense notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Cubs fans have seen enough of Chris Carpenter over the years to know that shoulder injuries don’t claim the careers of every pitcher who falls victim to one. Webb isn’t likely to cost any more than $3-4MM in 2010, and he has a chance to have twice the impact that Dempster has ultimately had in Chicago. I’ve argued that this team probably doesn’t need another starting pitcher, but at the right price, Brandon Webb would be an exception.