Monday, December 17, 2012

Twins turn spotlight on Brandon Webb

It has been three seasons since Brandon Webb has thrown a pitch at the major league level but this isn't going to stop teams from being interested in the former Cy Young winner. Following the holidays, the 33-year old will get on the mound in front of a handful of teams to try and prove that he has something left in the tank. The Twins will be among those in attendance but there will be plenty for Webb to prove after multiple shoulder injuries.

In the middle of September, Webb did a web chat with some fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks. At that point, he hadn't thrown a baseball in awhile but he made sure to let them know that he wasn't officially retired. The man that finished first, second, and second in the NL Cy Young balloting from 2006-08 has been trying to get back to that form. Shoulder injuries can be devastating and it has clearly taken away a big chunk of Webb's career.

Why are the Twins interested in Webb? Most of the word out of the Twin Cities this offseason has been that the Twins are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding starting pitching. This means looking at options with some risk but with the chance of bringing the team some reward. Webb has been a front of the rotation starter in the past and the Twins haven't had anyone fit this mold in multiple seasons.  If Webb can produce at a level anywhere close to before his injuries, there will be plenty of teams interested in his services.

A pitcher with Webb's track record could be a valuable addition to a club if the price was right. Webb would most likely be looking for a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. This type of contract can offer less risk for the club signing him and there could be other incentives in the deal if he made the big league roster. Offering Webb a contract is still a long ways off so the first step will be trying to figure out what version of Webb is on the mound after the holidays.

What kind of Webb will teams be getting? Before his shoulder started acting up, Webb was a workhorse in Arizona's starting rotation. In his last four full seasons, he averaged 232 innings pitched with a 3.23 ERA and 182 strikeouts per season. He led the NL in innings pitched in 2007 and he led the league in wins in 2006 and 2008. After leading the NL with 119 walks in 2004, Webb gained control and he has averaged 62 walks per season since that point. This is the version of Webb that any team would love to sign.

The other version of Webb is one that teams wouldn't want to get near. During his last comeback attempt with the Rangers in 2011, Webb showed diminished velocity while struggling in the minor leagues. Texas sent him to their Double-A affiliate and he started four games with a 9.75 ERA and a 2.25 WHIP. His shoulder issues would flare up again and he went under the knife last August for a rotator cuff issue. If a team signs Webb, he might have to prove himself in the minor leagues before getting another shot at the big league level.

Is Webb just this year's version of Joel Zumaya? Last season, the Twins went after a player similar to Webb in the fact that he had been dealing with his own injury prone past. Joel Zumaya was brought in to try and add a spark to the Twins' bullpen but that spark was more of a flicker. He would injury his elbow in his first throwing session of spring training and he was forced to have his sixth arm surgery. At age 27, Zumaya's once promising career is most likely finished and he left the Twins wondering what could have been in 2012.

Fans of the Twins can probably foresee a similar situation playing out with Webb if he were to sign with the club. There would be talk of Webb helping the team in 2013 before his shoulder would most likely begin to act up again. Webb could end up playing great but it seems much more plausible for it to go the other direction. Gambling on players can pay off but the Twins might not want to take that risk. Minnesota was willing to take a chance in 2012 so maybe they want to stay away from this kind of deal in 2013.

From Webb's point of view, the Twins could offer him one of the best chances of cracking into a starting rotation for next season. Minnesota has Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey ready to prove themselves in the rotation Recently signed Pelfrey might not be ready for the start of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. If Webb showed enough to the team in spring training, there is a chance that he could break camp with the club.

There is a better chance that he would need to start the season in the minor leagues and work his way back to the major leagues. The Twins might not want an aging pitcher tying up innings in their farm system. Minnesota could always make room for him to fit into one of their minor league starting rotations. If he had to start at the Double-A level like he did in Texas, it seems like those innings might be better suited for a younger arm that has some upside.

Webb could be worth the risk but there is a lot riding on how he looks in his upcoming throwing session.

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