The Clock is Ticking

With the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino hit a slow rolling grounder to New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano scooped it up and tossed the ball to first baseman Mark Teixeira for the final out of the 2009 World Series.

In the infield of Yankee Stadium players met and began celebrating the culmination of a year-long dream to bring the New York Yankees their 27th World Series Championship. At that exact same moment, somewhere in Arizona a stop watch was started signaling the beginning of a countdown.

The Arizona Diamondbacks now have five days from the final out last night to decide whether they will exercise the 2010 option on injured pitcher Brandon Webb. All the discussions are over and it now comes down to what level of risk the Diamondbacks are willing to accept on their staff ace.

Webb is coming off a season where he threw just six innings leaving his start on Opening Day never to return for the remainder of 2009. After several attempts to build strength in his pitching shoulder it was finally concluded that Webb would need surgery.

From all accounts the surgery went well with both the medical staff and the player expressing optimism that Webb will be physically sound to play the 2010 season. The problem of course is that at this point in time in his rehabilitation Webb has still not been cleared to begin throwing from a mound.

Consensus is that the shoulder will be well enough for Webb to return by Spring Training but at this moment it is unclear whether there will be any setbacks in his quest to return to the mound. If this were the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, or any other big-market team the decision may be quite simple; pick-up the option and hope for the best.

For a mid to small market team the decision becomes a bit more involved. These teams cannot afford an $8.5 million mistake. If the Diamondbacks exercise the option and Webb is not able to perform they have dug themselves a very deep financial hole where they may not have the funds to replace Webb with a frontline starter.

If on the other hand the Diamondbacks decline the option and let Webb become a free agent there is the very real possibility that he comes back healthy and the Diamondbacks get nothing in return for losing perhaps their best pitcher.

Arizona would obviously have liked to spread this risk over more than one season signing Webb to another year. This made very little sense from Webb’s perspective since his value at this moment is as low as it could possibly go.

Webb is confident he can come back and be the same dominating pitcher that won a Cy Young award for the Diamondbacks. He would like to play this season out whether it be in Arizona or somewhere else. At the conclusion of this season he has set himself up for a big payday as one of the premiere pitchers in the National League.

The Diamondbacks could have eliminated all of this by signing the three-year extension both sides agreed upon in 2008. That offer was pulled from the table when insurance companies became concerned with Webb’s shoulder and made it extremely expensive to cover the contract.

The rumors were that it was Webb holding up the deal which frustrated him. The Diamondbacks did little to make the public feel it wasn’t the player holding up negotiations. The way this transaction was handled seems to have left a bad taste in Webb’s mouth which is quite understandable.

For this to work out well, both parties need to let the past be the past and try to find common ground on a new contract. Webb has expressed that he is not interested in signing a new deal until mid-season 2010. The Diamondbacks will need to exercise some patience.

The first step of that patience will be to pick up the option which at this point seems to be a foregone conclusion. They will then need to work closely with Webb and once both sides are comfortable go back to the bargaining table.

While it would seem that the Diamondbacks have a stronger negotiating hand based on Webb’s recent injury; I look to see Webb’s agents come in strong with contract numbers much higher than what was on the table when the offer was pulled in 2008. I hate to say it but the window for getting a “hometown discount” is probably closed.

Given the tensions and the previous negotiations we may very well see the Diamondbacks trade Webb at the trading deadline rather than risk him walking at the end of the season. The clock may be counting down to make the decision on the 2010 option but a much bigger doomsday clock could follow if Webb chooses to test the free agent market after next season.

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