The Oakland Athletics have signed RHP Ben Sheets to a one year deal worth $10 million, an allocation of assets both uncommon for the club and yet intriguing.
Oakland has been trying and failing to sign several players, namely Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, so the fact that the A’s had $10 million (Sheets can earn an additional $2 million with incentives) to spend is not a surprise, as rare as the occasion may be. Given the dwindling resources on the free-agent market, the Athletics invested in the player with the most to contribute, albeit at a high risk.
The 31 year old missed all of 2009 due to elbow surgery, but prior to that was one of the best right-handers in the game. He boasts a career ERA of 3.72, which plummets to 3.24 when you discount his first three full years of starting, all with an ERA over 4. It’s no fluke either, as his career xFIP is 3.55. Moving to the spacious park the A’s call home, Sheets shouldn’t have much difficulty transferring to the American League — doubly so when you consider he will have two division rivals (Los Angeles, Seattle) that won’t be powerhouse offenses.
The knock against Sheets is his injury history. Starting in 2005 through 2007, Sheets has hit the disabled list six times, all but one with recurring right shoulder strain problems. Perhaps the surgery to correct his common flexor tendon in his right elbow will alleviate much of these symptoms. Perhaps not. With Sheets, you don’t quite know, so sinking a guaranteed $10 million into him is a risky proposition.
That said, Sheets has comfortably been worth around $10 million, if not significantly more, every year of his major league career. His lowest WAR was 2.2 in 2007, when he pitched a total of 141.1 starts and was worth $9 million, according to Fangraphs’ valuation. Sheets threw for interested teams earlier this year, and reports came away that he looked very impressive. Sheets’ market jumped dramatically after the showing, indicating that many teams had their concerns assuaged.
It’s possible the club might only be on the hook for half the salary as well, as there’s a school of thought that GM Billy Beane would flip Sheets for prospects at the trading deadline, if (or when) the team is out of contention. Assuming Sheets stays healthy, there’s a great chance of that happening. Don’t discount Oakland as a dark horse, though — their burgeoning defense and young, emerging pitching staff behind Sheets could make this team a dark horse contender in the division. If that bears out, Sheets could very well remain in town and contribute value for a contender.
There’s always a risk in signing a pitcher like Sheets, but for a team like Oakland, it’s a risk well worth taking.