You may have seen that the Indians signed right-handed pitcher Ryan Webb to a minor league deal; he will report to Triple-A Columbus. Moves like this happen all of the time; one team cuts a guy loose and another team stashes them in the minors for some additional depth. However, Webb took a rather strange and convoluted path to the Indians.
Originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, Webb spent much of his minor league career in the A’s organization. He bounced around in several trades, before signing with the Baltimore Orioles in December of 2013. Webb threw 49.1 innings with the Orioles in 2014, with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP (as well as a 2.95 FIP). He was set to make $2.75 million with Baltimore this season (the second year of a $4.5 million deal he signed with them in December of 2013), before they placed the 29-year-old on outright waivers (which he cleared) a little over a week ago. Webb ended up being formally designated for assignment by the Orioles a few days later.
Here’s where it starts to get a little unusual, since players clear waivers and are designated for assignment all of the time. Webb was traded to the Dodgers along with catcher Brian Ward and a Competitive Balance Round B draft pick (74th overall). (The Orioles got catcher Chris O’Brien and pitcher Ben Rowen in return). Then on Sunday, the Dodgers outrighted Webb as well. Why would the Dodgers want to trade for Webb, only to release him? That’s because the Dodgers were actually trading for the Competitive Balance draft pick. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times called it “Moneyball with big money” because the Dodgers essentially bought a draft pick. They assumed Webb’s 2015 salary, then cut him because they never really wanted him. They essentially spent $2.75 million on the draft pick (and gave up marginal prospects in the process). For the Dodgers, who now boast MLB’s largest payroll, this paltry sum was a drop in the bucket for them. For the Orioles, they get to save nearly $3 million on a pitcher that wasn’t going to be on their major league roster at the moment.
Enter the Indians on Monday – they snagged Webb and signed him to a minor league deal. Webb isn’t spectacular, and his velocity has diminished some in recent years, but he’s still a fairly reliable and consistent reliever. The way the Indians tore through relievers this weekend, they obviously want to stash as many capable arms in the organization as possible. And Webb is a great deal for them – even if he were to fail miserably and they released him, they’re not really out any money. The Dodgers are essentially paying his 2015 salary. Prior to his stint with the Orioles last year, Webb spent most of his major league career with the Marlins and the Padres. (After the A’s traded him to the Padres, and the Padres traded him to the Marlins). Even though Webb will be reporting to Columbus, if the bullpen continues to look as it did this past weekend, we may see Webb making his Indians debut sooner than we think.