The Athletics guaranteed $10MM to Ben Sheets in January even though he'd missed the entire 2009 season due to elbow surgery. The signing was not a success, but Sheets' upside must have been tantalizing for the A's. This winter, free agent Brandon Webb presents a more exaggerated risk/reward scenario for teams. Webb is two years removed from the Majors due to shoulder surgery, but his agent Jonathan Maurer still considers Sheets' deal a "conversation starter." Webb missed more time than Sheets, but Maurer's client finished first or second in the Cy Young voting each year from 2006 to '08.
Today Maurer provided MLBTR details about Webb's September/October instructional games, and also said he expects 30+ starts from his client in 2011:
Brandon pitched for the first time competitively (in 17 months) in September and October in three instructional games. The first game, Webb threw 80% and was 78-80 mph. The second game Webb was closer to 90% and was 81-83, and the third game, Webb, still laying back a bit, was 81-85. The reality is that Brandon showed good pitchability (he had strong movement on his signature sinker, plus plus change, and plus breaking ball). What he also had was some rust on location. Brandon's velocity is of very little concern to those that watch a lot of games. His arm strength is indeed coming back, and honestly, he pitched at 87-90 all of 2008 (when he won 22 games) and that is only 2-5 mph off where he was in October.
Brandon's surgeon, Dr. Keith Meister, fully expects him to prepare at a normal pace to be ready when camp opens in February, for whomever signs him. Brandon is hungry, excited, and ready to start 30 plus times in 2011. There is nothing to indicate he won't, with all the work he has put in and his consistent offseason workout program.
So far reports indicate that the Dodgers and Nationals have checked in on Webb, though surely many more clubs have kicked the tires. Back in October, John Tomase of the Boston Herald reported that 21 teams watched Webb throw at Chase Field. Will Webb reach the $7.5-10MM guarantee his agent seeks? I think he may fall a bit short, but $5-6MM would not be surprising. Incentives should allow the righty to top $10MM. Webb's first bout with free agency comes at an inopportune time in his career, but a vintage 2011 season would result in a huge contract.