Is the Brandon Webb – Arizona Diamondbacks Marriage Over?

I have had a love-hate relationship with the Arizona Republic newspaper since the inception of the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise. In the early days they were covered by beat writer Pedro Gomez. And I use the word covered very loosely here. Rarely did I ever agree with anything Gomez “reported”.

When he left to join ESPN and become Barry Bonds personal media darling I fully expected baseball fans in the Phoenix area to have a ticker tape parade to cheer his departure. The current Diamondbacks beat writer for the Republic is Nick Piecoro.

I kept my fingers crossed that Piecoro’s reporting style would be an upgrade from the hack job done by Gomez. While I have not always agreed with Piecoro’s stories I have come to respect his point of view and actually look forward to reading his columns.

As I was perusing today’s issue I came across a piece he did titled Signs point to Brandon Webb leaving D-Backs after 2010. This is not necessarily a bombshell. There have been indications for nearly a year that the Diamondbacks and their star pitcher may soon part ways.

During the 2008 season Arizona attempted to re-sign their co-aces Webb and Dan Haren to long term contracts to keep them at the top of the rotation for the foreseeable future. Haren’s deal was agreed upon quickly while Webb’s seemed to stale.

Local radio pundits suggested Webb was playing hardball wanting more money. The team did little to dissuade public impression that this was yet another example of millionaire baseball players trying to milk the team for every penny they could.

This of course did not sit well with Webb and he ultimately went on-air to explain it was not his fault the deal was not done. The team had actually rescinded their offer claiming they could not find an appropriate insurance carrier willing to cover the pitcher’s extension.

The story evolved into a question of how structurally sound Webb’s arm was. This of course put Webb on the defensive as he tried to justify his health. When the pitcher went down on Opening Day 2009 with shoulder problems it made the team’s fears almost prophetic.

After shutting down their ace for the season there were questions as to whether the team would pick up the option for the 2010 season. Webb’s reputation and his feelings were obviously hurt that the team did not have more faith in him.

The team played its cards fairly tight to the vest coming out just a few days before the option deadline to state they would bring their star pitcher back. Since then Webb has been working hard to get ready for the 2010 season and did not appear to be in any kind of mood to talk about extending his stay in Arizona.

As Piecoro reported, Webb spoke to ESPN and alluded to the fact that he expects to be a free agent and offer his services to the highest bidder. Considering the contracts given the past couple of years to first-tier pitchers, you can’t really fault Webb from wanting to cash in.

From his comments there is obviously still a riff between himself and the Diamondbacks front office. If this split continues into Spring Training and through the season it will become a large distraction to the 2010 season.

With every loss by the Diamondbacks there will be questions of whether they will trade Webb at the July 31 deadline. If still in contention for the second half of the season there will be questions what it would take for Webb to remain a member of the Diamondbacks.

Either of these scenarios looks to play out as a summer of discontent in the Arizona clubhouse and yet another excuse to be used for a team coming off an underachieving season.

Considering the economies of the Phoenix market the Diamondbacks can ill afford paying a player of Webb’s caliber market value. It would just be too expensive to do especially if the player is questioning whether he really wants to be there.

In 2008 Webb seemed willing to settle for a hometown discount to stay with the team that drafted him but not it feels as though he has one foot in the clubhouse and the other into a waiting car eager to put the Phoenix skyline in the rearview mirror.

Perhaps this season will unfold and the team can find a way to repair the damage in their relationship with Webb. This situation has implications not just on the field but in the community. Webb is well loved by the fans and if the team lets him walk or worse trades him away it could very well set into motion a fan backlash that has not been felt since they parted ways with outfielder Luis Gonzalez.

I’ll continue to keep my fingers crossed that the situation will not end up as apocalyptic as Piecoro has made it sound. In the mean time I am holding off buying a new Brandon Webb Diamondbacks jersey. They may go on sale for 50 percent off by this time next year.

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