Sheets to Oakland

Ben Sheets signing with Oakland did not surprise me in the least. GM Billy Beane has been making these kinds of deals for years now. What does surprise me is the money because usually on the heels of the announcement of the contract, I have nearly always been left wishing my team had been in on that player at that price. This time? Not so much.

The reported deal is for $10 million guaranteed with some as of yet unknown incentives thrown into the mix. In a straight vacuum, I think this is an overpay. On a one year deal in this winter’s economic climate, Oakland is paying Sheets like a three win pitcher. Three wins is solid pitching and there’s a decent chance, we will know more when they are leaked, that at a three win performance level, Sheets will be triggering some of those salary incentives, meaning he would have to pitch even better to justify the contract.

Neither CHONE, nor the nearly universally optimistic fans project Sheets to even be able to accrue three wins of value due to his very real injury concerns. It is important to remember that the injury that cost Ben Sheets all of 2009 was not his first, or even second or even third arm-related injury. A list of pitching-important injuries to Sheets in the last five years includes his elbow, hand, shoulder (twice) and back.

The 31-year-old last pitched a quasi-full season in 2008 and was worth about 4.5 wins. If he managed to reproduce those 200 innings thrown in 2010, I would expect something around 4 wins thanks to aging, injury-related decline and regression. Dock him another half win for the league switch into the American League and even at full health, I’m not confident Ben Sheets is better than 3.5 wins.

The signing does not come in a vacuum though. The AL West is very tight based on projections and Sheets, even at an expected 2 or 2.5 win total value represents a significant upgrade to Oakland’s win totals, which pushes them into the discussion for the division. As we have discussed plenty of times this offseason, those wins at the edge of the playoff picture are worth a lot of marginal revenue. There is also something small to say about signing Ben Sheets away from Texas and Seattle, both rumored to be interested. It leaves me in a weird balance between not liking the deal for them because of the cost, but liking the deal for them because of the increased playoff odds.

It is also strikes me as odd to see Oakland take risks with high payroll players. Injury reclamations are nothing new, but before they have always seemed to land them on the cheap, possibly luring them with the guarantee of playing time. This time around, Sheets had plenty of suitors and Oakland paid for it. Nevertheless, given Oakland’s position, still, as the fourth best team in the division on paper and the one year nature of the contract with Sheets, do not be surprised if Sheets’ name is on the trading block come summer. That would be another of Billy Beane‘s specialties.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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