Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | January 27, 2010

Oakland Buys Sheets For Its Bed of Championship Dreams

From the very beginning of the off-season it was apparent that the division to watch in the MLB was the AL West. While the AL East has the glitz and glamour clubs and the NL West is full of young and upcoming stars, the AL West has been full of movement and reshaping in this off-season as all four teams have made significant moves to stock the cupboards and prepare for the all-out war of the regular season grind against one another. Just a few days after the Los Angeles Angels signed Joel Pineiro, the Oakland A’s fired another salvo in the arms war, signing free agent pitcher Ben Sheets to a single year deal.  I’ve gotten conflicting reports from sources as to whether it’s a $8m deal or a $10m deal, but while less is always better (from a team point of view) its not really relevant when it comes to this signing since either number would be an acceptable expenditure on the A’s part. Sheets missed the whole of last season recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow.

The low-down on Sheets is as follows:
















2009 DNP Injury Torn Flexor Tendon Elbow
2008 198 1/3 3.09 3.38 1.15 7.2 2.1
2007 141 1/3 3.82 4.11 1.24 6.8 2.4















Sheets has essentially been a high to very above average quality pitcher every season since 2003 (save ‘09 when he didn’t play), but he has been dogged by injuries in the last five years with last year being the high water mark of the injury phenomenon thus far for him. He hasn’t logged 200 innings since 2004 and has only thrown as many as 160 once (in ‘08, as can be seen above) in that span of time. Now returning from injury, there was a lot of praised heaped upon Sheets from scouts who saw his workouts. Sheets turns 32 in July and it seems that if he’s as good as the scouts are saying, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to return to his previous level of performance. He’s been a high strikeout pitcher at times in his career but he’s really made his mark with his command and ability to avoid giving free passes. He works mostly with his fastball (to great effect) and also mixes in a curve about a third of the time and a changeup to mix things up.

This move appears on the surface to be an outstanding one by Billy Beane and the A’s. They’ve assumed minimal risk and stand to reap high rewards. When healthy and at his best, Sheets is a top-of-the-rotation starter, and if he returns to even be 80% of what he was, he’s likely to make a difference in an Oakland rotation that already features a few good, young starters. Even if he can only go 150 innings, if those 150 are of high quality they could make a difference in helping Oakland to win the division. If Sheets performs and as a team Oakland flounders again and falls behind the pack, Sheets is precisely the type of guy who would command a high premium at the trade deadline and we all know that Beane is very good when making trades with other teams. He very rarely loses deals and almost always wins handily. He would certainly get all he could out of Sheets trade value. If he helps them win the division, or even he helps them have a SHOT at winning the division late in the season he almost certainly will be a Type A free agent when he hit’s the market in the off-season and the A’s will be able to reap two draft picks from offering him arbitration. The absolute worst case scenario for the A’s is if Sheets regresses horribly or gets injured very early on in the season to an extent where he can’t pitch any more. Should that Doomsday scenario take place, all that they’ve lost is money for one season. Given the time of year that this signing took place (and the fact that they’re rumored to be in on Johnny Damon right now), it appears the money they’re spending on Sheets wasn’t cash that was destined to be spent elsewhere — It either was going to Sheets or going into Lew Wolff’s bank account. Therefore, it hasn’t crippled the team or business operations and next year Sheets is back on the free agent market and out of Oakland‘s hair next off-season.

This seems to be a signing where even the worst case scenario isn’t the most horrible thing in the World (except for maybe Lew Wolff) and there are several ways in which it can turn out positively for a cash-strapped team like Oakland. Not only is it a great signing, but its added an extra layer of intrigue to the AL West off-season. Oakland’s already added Kouzmanoff, Taylor, Crisp, and Fox in this off-season and now they’ve added Sheets to the mix. Don’t discount them in the divisional race. They’re clearly not the favorites, but they have a not insignificant chance of winning the division with this team. This signing is another entry in the preface to the diary of the 2010 AL West race. It ought to be a great one.


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