Cincinnati Reds general manager and president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty. Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Bargain Watch: Brandon Webb

A key factor in the Reds’ success in 2012 was the signing of Ryan Ludwick, a player who was signed when his value was low, and whose production was worth a lot more than his salary. This is the latest entry in a series of articles where I look at free agents who could be acquired on the cheap and possibly provide more value than they would cost, and evaluate whether or not they could be a good addition for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013.

If you’ve only recently started following baseball, you won’t be familiar with Brandon Webb. But five years ago, he was among the most dominant pitchers in the National League.

An Ashland, Kentucky native and University of Kentucky product, Webb made his big league debut with the Diamondbacks in 2003 and immediately impressed. He made 28 starts in his rookie season, winning 10 games with a 2.84 ERA in 180.2 innings. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind fellow starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis, despite having a better ERA, WHIP, strikeout rate, home run rate, etc., though Willis had a better record and helped lead the Marlins to a World Series title.

The next season was Webb’s worst in the majors as he struggled with control, leading the league with 119 walks and 17 wild pitches. In spite of this, he still managed a 3.59 ERA. That’s the highest ERA of his career. The following year, he posted a similar ERA of 3.54, but cut his walk total in half to 59, even though he pitched 21 more innings.

Then, Webb began a three-year run of dominance during which he was among the best players in the game. With a devastating sinker, he was an All-Star in each of the three seasons, posting a combined record of 56-25 with an ERA of 3.13. He finished no worse than second in the NL Cy Young voting in that span, winning the award in 2006.

However, he was also among the most heavily used pitchers in baseball, averaging 219 innings a season since he made his big league debut, and on Opening Day in 2009, Webb struggled in a short start, allowing six runs in four innings. Following the game, he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since.

It was reported earlier this month that Webb was planning on making a comeback and pitching again this season. But this is not his first attempt. After spending the entire 2010 season rehabbing his shoulder, he was signed by the Rangers, and made a start for their Double-A team. Less than two months later, it was announced that he would go under the knife yet again to repair the same shoulder that sidelined him in 2009.

So that’s a pretty big red flag. Shoulder injuries have been known to be career-killers, as opposed to elbow injuries, which are much more common. Undergoing Tommy John surgery has almost become a rite of passage for pitchers these days. At least four pitchers who were All-Stars this year–Fernando Rodney, C.J. Wilson, Joe Nathan, and Stephen Strasburg–have had the elbow procedure and recovered.

The list of shoulder surgery success stories is practically non-existent. One of the only ones that I could find is Chris Carpenter, who had surgery on his shoulder in his final season with the Blue Jays before sitting out all of 2003. Of course, he then signed with the Cardinals and has had several outstanding years, including winning a Cy Young in 2005. But Carpenter has also suffered through a few injury-plagued seasons since then as well.

In addition, Webb has essentially missed four entire seasons. I can’t think of anyone who has successfully returned from such a prolonged absence. (So long, in fact, that our image provider apparently doesn’t even have a picture of Webb in its database.) And although he’s still only 33, after one failed comeback attempt, the likelihood of Webb returning at all may be slim.

It’s almost impossible to expect him to once again be the pitcher he once was. But no team can ever have enough pitching, and if, by some miracle, he once again becomes the ace that he was five years ago, the Reds will have one nasty rotation. Or perhaps he could be a valuable piece in the bullpen. If he just manages to stay healthy and pitch fairly well in the minors, he could be used as a trade piece at the deadline.

Webb is scheduled to throw for teams after the holidays. The Twins, who have an absolute mess of a rotation right now, have shown the most interest so far. If they or some other team offer him a Major League deal, he would probably take it. But if he only receives minor league offers, Webb may want to stay in his home state and pitch in Louisville. In my opinion, the Reds should at least try to sign him to a minor league contract.

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  • Guest

    Dear Matt,

  • Santa Claus

    Dear Matt,

    This is Huston Street bringing you a little early Christmas Spirit.

    I am one of the players that you mentioned in your blog above, and I felt compelled to write this letter – again.

    I say again because ‘disqus’ sent one of my messages into oblivion and I will add that one was quite funny and well-put – this one will be, well less enthusiastic, probably have worse timing, and it’s simply because art only happens in the moment, and even the Declaration of Independence was at it’s most beautiful for only a few years after it was written. I am no Thomas Jefferson, and I am not trying to re-write all of history, just a little bit of it.

    I will say first though, that in order to comment on this blog, you have to sign-up, create a password, verify that password, then create a fake email so that when people respond they aren’t actually spamming your life and time away, then you have to confirm that email with your newly created disqus, then of course disqus assigns you this hap-hazzard username which just looks ugly, and you try every single one under the sun, and wonder to yourself ‘how are all these taken,’ and then you finally get credentialed enough to make a comment on this blog.

    The ironic thing is that ‘disqus’ does more fact checking than you or any other blogger on the status of my existence.

    I am not picking on bloggers altogether – because I truly believe the service you provide creates momentum in the fan base, and that is good for the game in the long run. That being said I have never had Tommy John Surgery.

    I realize that you probably picked it up off of some other website’s blog, talking about guys who have come back from it, and were we to family tree it all the way back to it’s origin, we’ll arrive at some other dude who half-remembered the way it was, and probably also was up posting his thoughts at 4:35am.

    I’m not sure where the original Santa Claus manifested his cognition of truth, but nevertheless (sounds like a nautical term – every time I say it I imagine Captain Jack Sparrow screaming to his crew to “Never the Less,”) nevertheless Matt, the thankful reality is that I have yet to go under the knife during my 8 year tenure in the league, and as I am knocking on wood, rubbing my belly, scratching my head, and turning in counter-clockwise circles, all while typing this with my nose, I sincerely hope that never comes to fruition, and would appreciate you not disseminating it any further.

    I do appreciate the mention with those other dudes, as I would happily have the surgery to have any other their arms, but as it remains my elbow is still as God made it, and I really don’t need you or any other blogger, journalist, writer, fan commenter, adding to my already extensive injury resume.

    I’m as fragile as a person can be and still have a career to speak of, so yes I’ll take shots at myself as well, but I don’t need to be put under the knife just to get a mention in the blogosphere.

    I’ll actually be creating my own blog in 2013 called “Whatever I Feel Like Saying,” and while a little poking of fun is always necessary to break down the boundaries of the human condition, Matt I challenge you and all the bloggers out there to be a better writer and fact checker than “disqus.”

    Disqus is just a machine and is pre-programmed – what I’m saying is, referencing your neighborly blogger has become the happenstance of the day, and as many clubhouse credentials lament, it’s not always the proof of the pudding that y’all are spouting off.

    That being said – feel free to bury me all you want – It’s comic relief in my household imagining someone fervently pounding away on the keypad – my wife especially loves hearing me repeat it, as I don’t repeat the good stuff (yes I read everything all the time – how else would I have read “ @ 12:31 on a Wednesday), but I’d rather hear my wife laugh than roll her eyes as she also notes that’s I’m just quoting “the internet.”

    Just to get a personal plug in though, I have 2 kids now Ripken and Ryder and they are actually going to be my main sources for this next years blog. Our first topic will be the impending “Fiscal Cliff,” and explaining to them that Santa Claus does have to pay taxes, and so their first lesson in economics is that when the boss makes less money the kids don’t get quite as big a bonus – that’s more of a joke than my belief system – tax me all you want – I don’t want to get political, but am actually just running my own personal gambit to see how much of this actually gets picked up at a later date.

    I’m proud to have written a longer response than you did a blog – I only have 2 years left on my contract, and I hear Cincy is beautiful this time of year, so I’d be watching out Matt Gahris, cause I’m no charlatan, and I will clearly waste plenty of time while waiting for momma to get home and Ripken to get done with school so we can play tackle. Ryder is sound asleep. The wind is blowing north easterly – at least according to

    I love blogging it truly is [email protected] – email me your responses and I promise as already stated to never read it, simply because it already took too long to create a fake email account, and I have already forgotten the password.

    To the person out their running my “official twitter page,” keep it up, though I have never tweeted in my life – I think the idea is useful when appropriated appropriately, awesome combo.

    Matt drop some hyperbole or alliteration in your next blog. Talk about my boy Stubbs cause he is really fast and tell Votto to swing at my change-up.

    I’m off for another cup of coffee – this first one was especially strong this morning, but . . .

    In all seriousness, as most of this was just for fun, and Matt actually has some interesting thoughts as I read a lot of his past blogs. . .

    On this day and many many more please everyone take time to Pray for the families in Newtown, Connecticut – as a parent of two young children there is no greater love, and no greater tragedy, no words will help, but prayer could, and with all the sincerity in my heart, I am sorry the world perpetuates such evil upon itself – no person should ever have to suffer such an injustice, and for those grieving just know that the Street Family is praying for you down here in Austin, and again we just send love, as there is nothing more to say.


    • Matt Gahris

      Well Mr. Street, or Santa Claus, I appreciate your comment. Thanks for reading the blog, and I apologize for wrongly identifying you as a Tommy John vet and perpetuating such misinformation. I will update my post accordingly. There is a lot of bad writing on the internet, but I pride myself on my research and I’m a bit embarrassed to have made such a mistake. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas, and good luck this season. Maybe once that contract is up you can come pitch in the Queen City. We’ve got a pretty good bullpen. I know we just traded Stubbs, but we should hopefully still have LeCure by then, so the Longhorns will be well-represented.