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.


49 Responses to “Sheets to Oakland”

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  1. Will says:

    Are the Athletics really in the discussion to win the division?
    Their team was average last year (.500 pythag), and while they have players with potential, I don’t think they have the talent to compete with the Rangers and Mariners, who have both improved substantially this offseason.

    Even 2-3 wins from Sheets, and a few win improvement from guys like Anderson, Cahill, etc, still will not put them into contention. I expect whoever comes out on top of the AL West will be doing so with about 95+ wins.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      I’d say they’d be “in the discussion” if there were only one team ahead of them – but there are three. If the A’s played a little over their head, they’d likely catch one of the other teams in the AL West, possibly but not likely catch two. I think it would take the “perfect storm” for them to catch and pass all three of the other teams. Sure, it’s possible – but imo they need one more solid upgrade to be “in the discussion”.
      vr, Xei

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      • Will says:

        Agreed. To me, this move looks a lot like the Orioles signing Tejada, granted Sheets has far more upside than Tejada. Both the O’s and the A’s are trying to climb their way to the top of their very competitive divisions with an abundance of young talent, but both teams are still a year or two away from actually competing. They’re both semi-reasonable one year contracts that fill needed holes, but neither signing puts the team into contention.

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    • Jason Bledsoe says:

      With several “good but not great” teams in the west, I don’t envision anyone hitting 95 wins, because I don’t envision any truly bad teams to beat up on. When you don’t have any 65-70 win teams, you’re pretty unlikely to have 95-100 win teams, too.

      Unless, you know…they get to play a bunch more interleague games and wail on their NL brethren like red-headed stepchildren.

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    • lincolndude says:

      It might be an overpay, but I love the signing. The A’s aren’t necessarily “in the discussion” for the division, but they’re good enough that if a few breaks go their way, they can win it.

      The signing is a gamble. There’s a non-trivial chance they get 4 or more wins out of Sheets. There’s also a decent chance they get nothing. But if he pitches well, they’ll either be in it and have a shot at the playoffs, or they’ll be able to deal him at the deadline.

      Even with the injury history, somebody out there will give up an A prospect for Sheets at the deadline if he shows his previous form for 100-120 innings. The temptation of getting an ace-level pitcher is just too great for teams in the hunt. So for that reason alone, I think it’s a good gamble.

      Also keep in mind that the A’s defense is so vastly upgraded, and the Coliseum is so much more pitcher-friendly than the Brewers’ stadium, that he’s likely to look a lot better than he is. We saw how that worked out for Washburn and the M’s last year.

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  2. Logan says:

    Would somebody please refresh my memory on Sheets’ injuries. I remember only two pitching related serious injuries that would be a concern going forward.

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    • Dealer A says:

      I can’t provide a list, but I do agree that the article seems to overstate his arm injuries. In my memory, Sheets’ worst injuries were to the right latissimus dorsi and his vestibular neuritis.

      Whatever injuries fill out the rest of the list, I don’t remember them being specifically related to one another.

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  3. wt says:

    The real question is who is Beane going to screw over for a couple of months of Sheets at the deadline. (You know if Omar or Dayton think they are in contention come august they will give away the farm.)

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    • Will says:

      I don’t think Sheets will have much value at the deadline. There’s three scenarios that could occur.
      1. Sheets gets injured early.
      2. Sheets stays relatively healthy, but doesn’t pitch well.
      3. Sheets stays relatively healthy and pitches well.

      If scenario 1 or 2 occur, he will not be of much value to any team in contention for obvious reasons.

      If scenario 3 occurs, he’ll likely have racked up about 100 IP by the deadline. Will many (or any) teams be interested in giving up any value for a pitcher with serious health/durability concerns, who they will be relying on for a run deep into September or October?

      I can’t see many teams offering much in return for Sheets around the deadline, but then again I would never have expected Beane would have given Sheets $10mil guaranteed.

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  4. Adam W says:

    I don’t think it’s at all surprising that Oakland paid big for Sheets. Beane has been grousing lately about how players are taking less money to play for other teams, so he knew what he needed to do.

    If Ben Sheets can be Ben Sheets for 150 innings, Beane will have gotten his money’s worth. If not, well, you have to take those risks to stay competitive sometimes.

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    • Jason Bledsoe says:

      “If not, well, you have to take those risks to stay competitive sometimes.”

      Says Washington as they ink Pudge to a 2-year deal.

      Says Houston as they bring in Brandon Lyon for 3/$15M.

      Says San Francisco as they sign Aubrey Huff.

      Says…

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      • Alon says:

        except ben sheets has a non trivial probability of being a good player (and, if healthy, an exceptional player). Pudge,Lyon and Huff are significantly less likely to achieve that.

        There’s not much parallelism except for Ben sheets being an older player who signed with a team for a deal. Underneath your logic, I could just as justifiably compare him to Frank Thomas signing with the A’s in 2006.

        See what I did there? I think that the three examples you cited are just examples of poor signings. So maybe the lesson should be, don’t sign crappy players.

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  5. Danmay says:

    The downside of this risky signing is a one year 10 million dollar contract down the drain. The A’s were known to have extra cash to spend and starting pitcher was an area that they could both use an upgrade at and there was a talented available free agent. They are likely only fringe playoff contenders as it is, so Sheets’ high probability of getting injured likely won’t be the reason they miss the playoffs.

    The upside of Sheets having a good year has two possibilities. If the A’s play well as a team and make the playoffs, then the contribution from Sheets will likely be integral as the AL West looks to be a tight potentially four team race. If the A’s don’t play well but Sheets does and manages to stay healthy for a few months, then Beane & Co. have just essentially spent roughly 5 million dollars on what would likely return a good prospect or two.

    When taking this into account along with keeping Sheets away from Texas and Seattle, as Matthew pointed out, this seems like a good use of resources to me.

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    • hk says:

      I agree. At this point in the offseason, with so many free agents turning down the A’s, what should Billy Beane do with $10M budgeted, but unspent dollars? Did he overpay? Potentially in dollars, but obviously not in years. Sheets has produced more than 3 WAR in every year that he’s pitched except 1, so if he’s healthy he should be more than worth the dollars in either scenario Danmay describes.

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  6. Resolution says:

    “I would expect something around 4 wins thanks to aging, injury-related decline and regression.”

    Hey just a question, but don’t pitchers tend to hit their peak a little bit later than hitters? If I recall correctly, I remember reading that while hitters peak around 27/28, pitchers tend to peak around 29/30. If that’s true (and even if it isn’t honestly) why do we factor in aging? Shouldn’t age really only be factored in when it can be considered a true factor?

    Also, just out of curiosity, but what when you mention regression, what exactly would Sheets be regressing toward?

    Sorry if this came off as dickish, I lack linguistic finesse…

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      I’m pretty sure hitters mostly peak around 30/31, actually. 27/28 is definitely too young (although, taking defense into account, might be more accurate).

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  7. Jacob Jackson says:

    I would infinitely rather have Trevor Cahill’s age-27 in an A’s uniform in 2015 than his age-22 one. That’s a great reason for signing Sheets this offseason.

    Ten million dollars spent now could save millions of dollars down the road. The Giants will pay $10M+ for Lincecum next year because they didn’t hold him in the minors for an extra few weeks three seasons ago. For the A’s, it would be a huge waste of money to get another slightly-above-replacement level season out of Trevor Cahill/Vin Mazzaro.

    Better to pay some money now to give those guys time to mature in the minors, even if it’s only an additional few months. One of the worst things a GM can do is waste service time on a very young, elite prospect when he sucks – the Alex Gordon, F-Mart approach. You would so much rather have contractual control over a guy in his mid-to-late 20s than have him scuffle in the majors at 20/21.

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    • Carligula says:

      If it’s just about service time, you 1) don’t have to spend $10M on cannon fodder and 2) might as well get someone who you can reasonably expect to give you 30+ starts. Ben Sheets is about the last guy you’d use for this purpose.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        It clearly isn’t “just about service time”; service time is just one of the positive benefits that the article didn’t mention, but is worth adding to the discussion.

        And although the team wouldn’t have to spend $10M to “block” Cahill or Mazarro, they do need to acquire a pitcher that is clearly better than those two to justify blocking them to the Player’s Union and avoid a grievance (not to mention avoiding a furious, low-morale clubhouse).

        You can’t keep Cahill in AAA in favor of Edgar Gonzalez. You certainly keep in there in favor of Justin Duchscherer and Sheets.

        Neither player has to make 30+ starts. They have to be healthy enough to keep Cahill and Mazzaro in the minors for a few months this year – at any point during the year. In other words, they have to be healthy for approximately 2-3 non-consecutive months. Those few months will at least keep Cahill from reaching Super 2 status after the 2011 season, and they will preserve an additional year of team contractual control over Mazzaro.

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    • BabySpittle says:

      Pitchers need experience to improve.

      Still, I like the signing.

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  8. JD says:

    Something else to consider: If the A’s don’t spend this money, the owners likely just pocket it. There’s very, very little else out there. There’s no free agent hitters they should be seeking to acquire (the Damon rumors are, hopefully, a lot of hot air). Sheets is likely the best FA pitcher available. The A’s are on record saying their Major League budget and budget for draft picks/International FAs are not in any way related (meaning being under the ML budget doesn’t mean they’ll get better amateur players). So why not overpay a little for a lottery ticket? There’s literally nothing else productive they can do with that money.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      That’s not entirely true – it could be rolled into next year’s budget. I’m not saying that’s the right move, but money doesn’t evaporate if it’s not spent.

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  9. joser says:

    Sheets has been getting more FB-oriented as he ages. McAfee is a pitcher’s park, the A”s have a very good outfield defense, so whether it’s at the trade deadline or the end of the season Sheets should come out of this looking good as long as he can stay healthy; he certainly has a better chance than Harden in Texas (unless the Rangers’ docs can tip the balance on the health side of things).

    This is kind of the pitching version of Beltre to Boston.

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    • Steve says:

      why so many thumbs down for this?

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      • standuptriple says:

        Because you dared to marginalize the monumentous signing/impact Beltre will have in Boston. That and people are haters.

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      • Steve says:

        lol at the thumbs down for asking about the thumbs down.

        well played everyone, well played.

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      • joser says:

        Certain readers seem to click “thumb down” on almost any non-trivial statement, especially when it involves one of a couple hot-button teams (Red Sox, Royals…). It’s possible certain commenters attract thumbs-downs based not on that comment but on past comments, though I doubt I’ve acquired enough of a reputation around here for people to even notice my user name, let alone single me out for “punishment.”

        But I’ve had other comments receive several “that’s hilarious” replies, but no thumbs-ups… and many thumbs-downs. So I would suggest (a) you should mostly ignore the thumb ratings, and (b), yeah, a lot of people seem to be “haters” (albeit lazy ones who will click the mouse but can’t be bothered to actually write anything).

        And yeah, we should see a lot of thumbs-downs on this comment (assuming anyone is still reading about Sheets and/or the A’s…)

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      • MBD says:

        Hang in there, joser. There does appear to be an inarticulate taskforce that has it in for you, but I ignore any thumbs down that isn’t justified by a post’s content (name-calling, hostility, assertions without evidence, etc.). I’m not sure why anyone would bother to thumbs-down a reasonable post and not make any argument.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        There needs to be a “one finger up” icon in response to any thumbs down icon not accompanied by a reasoned response. *grin*

        On a serious note, if someone says something that you truly think is wrong or just stinks in general, then a quick corrective response or explanation is both more appropriate and more valuable.

        Otherwise we get into the same trap that other forums get into where diverse opinions are met with resistance, people remain close-minded or naive, and/or any comment supporting/opposing a certain team/player/manager/gm gets an automated (seemingly) “thumbs down” vote, regardless of the content of the situation.

        I don’t like the thumbs up or down votes because I do not value the anonymous critic that does not put their own ideas out there to be evaluated.

        Please, consider this as a simple request to post your comments rather than just “quick click”. Everyone learns more in a debate situation … and the information that gets divulged is very often more in-depth (overall, and accumulative) than the original piece being discussed (it’s the nature of debate). In a strong discussion of diverse opinions and perspectives, all readers “WIN”.

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  10. Circlechange11 says:

    Isn’t this just the 2010 version of the Holliday signing?

    If Sheets pitches well, some team will “rent him” for the playoff run & he will enter the FA market again.

    The A’s will end up with 1 or 2 prospects that are closer to MLB ready then just spending it on the draft. If it works out then OAK may be in a position to make a 3-year run and repeat the process.

    This is the game small-market teams must play. There will likely be some teams interested in a healthy Sheets.

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    • pounded clown says:

      Sounds reasonable to me.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      The difference between this and Holliday– and the reason why I like this move and gnash my teeth every time someone brings up the Holliday deal– is that this was a free agent signing and Holliday required extremely valuable players in return.

      The Holliday deal made the A’s worse from a long-term (post-2009) talent standpoint. The impact of signing Sheets is, at worst, a net zero.

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      • Fred Phelps says:

        True, the A’s will miss Carlos Gonzalez. I doubt they planned on keeping street around much longer, and Smith is fungable.

        But then Holliday became Mike Taylor and a few lower ceiling prospects, so the A’s didn’t exactly kill their future.

        The Holliday trade didn’t hurt the A’s all that badly in the end, IMO.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        True, Fred.

        I forgot that Holliday was a trade, not a 1-year FA deal.

        Carlos Gonzalez will certainly be a fine player, but given the A’s seem I think they A’s have made enough moves to compensate and to overall improve the team.

        The Fans seem to think that CGonz is going to have a 4-win season, and if that happens, then the subsequent deals may look less than stellar.

        They traded CarGo (Did I just invent that moniker?) for Holliday, then Holliday for Wallace, then Wallace for Taylor. Certainly it would have been easier to just “stick with CarGo” (although I don’t know his contract/status).

        The A’s may have thought that Holliday would have brought more than what he did. So, from what you said, i would agree that the Sheets signing has less downside than the trading for Holliday.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        Circle – Gonzalez has been commonly called “CarGo” by just about everybody who’s ever written anything about him for years. It’s almost as ubiquitous (albeit for a much lower profile player) as “A-Rod”. Dunno if you were being sarcastic but otherwise I’m not sure how you missed that!

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    • JayCee says:

      The Astros’ signing of Brett Myers is another example of this, IMO.

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    • Alon says:

      The opportunity cost of trading for Holliday was high, given that it required a pretty good CF prospect, a valuable reliever, and Greg Smith. The opportunity cost for signing Ben sheets was (relatively) low, as it only required cash.

      Holliday was a clear move that mortgaged the future for the present. Sheets does not mortgage the future (aside from future cash usage, which the league seems to discourage) and improves the present.

      The result may be the same (trade for a for a couple prospects), but the entry cost is vastly lower.

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  11. SeaWolf says:

    Is Oakland in the discussion to win the division? I think so. I’m not saying they will win the division, but they will be substantially more competitive. You have to remember that they’ve replaced 40% of their starting rotation (Duchscherer & Sheets) with very high upside guys.

    Yes, there is risk associated with each, but 150 IP from each of Duchscherer and Sheets is a lot better than what they got from last year’s #4 and #5 starters.

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      150 IP each from Duke and Sheets is also at a very low percentile on the probability scale. But I agree, if it happens, the A’s may be as good at run prevention as any team in MLB, given their unbelievably awesome young bullpen, talented rotation, and extremely good defense.

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  12. Joe R says:

    I have to disagree with this being “bad” in any way. Remember that this is an Oakland team that scored 301 runs in the final two months of the season vs. 262 given up. That’s about a .563 win rate, or a 91 win team performance.

    Personally I think everyone in the West is in the discussion to win the West in 2010. And worst case scenario, Sheets gets hurt again, A’s don’t win the west, and they’ve done nothing to damage their 2011 on aspirations when guys like Carter, Taylor, Cardenas, etc are MLB ready.

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  13. JK says:

    I read most of the articles on this site, and this one was definitely much better than the typical since it actually addressed some real-world effects of the deal (and thus gave us some GM reasoning outside of the slash stats).

    This deal probably gives the nod to Oakland as the best pitching staff in the West now. With this addition and the return of Duch, Oak adds two very good (although injury prone) starters. If Anderson continues his break out from the second half of last year, they have the top three in the division (Seattle has a much much better top two), and have a bunch of other guys to pick from, some of which will at least by percentage chance improve (like Braden, Gio Gonzalez, Cahill), etc. Their depth is much better than the rest of the West.

    Oakland already has by far the best relief staff in the West (and likely best in the MLB). They have a very good defense now as well. All of this, hopefully for Beane, makes up for a very iffy offense. In the end, it will likely be tough for them to win the division, but every team in the west has holes. A gamble, but one of these days one of these gambles has to pay off for him.

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  14. lincolndude says:

    How often do you get a chance to add a guy with 4 win upside on a short-term deal, and not have to A) trade prospects for him or B) give up a compensation pick?

    The A’s had some money in their budget to spend. This was a very good gamble.

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  15. RS says:

    In the analysis 0.5 WAR was docked by moving from NL to AL. The overall numbers of a pitcher making that move will be worse but the WAR should stay the same. In theory the replacement SP in the AL is worse than the NL because they face the DH, etc. Therefore, any decline in gross stats will be mirrored by a decline in replacement level and should result in the same WAR and the same overall value, unless there is something about Sheets that makes him likely to struggle more in the AL vs the NL than most pitchers.

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    • lookatthosetwins says:

      That works in theory, but in general, a 4.5 win pitcher in the NL is probably actually a 4.25 win pitcher, but will appear to be a 4.0 win pitcher in the AL. I do agree that he isn’t worth less money because he’s moving to the AL, that doesn’t really make any sense. But we’ll continue to have these problems until they start doing league adjustments to WAR.

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  16. Andy says:

    Yeah, at over $10 million, I’d have to think that even if they can flip Sheets for an A prospect, you’re better off spending that money elsewhere, maybe on the draft.

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    • Danmay says:

      It may be true that the $10 million could’ve been spent elsewhere, but you can’t use that $10 million to get extra picks in the draft. You can trade a (potentially) high quality pitcher at the deadline to get amateur talent.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        No, but you can make some ridiculously over-slot pickups in the 2nd and 3rd round and amass some pretty good (first-round quality) talent. Selig might not like it but (whilst the slotting system works as it does) it’s certainly something you can use to your advantage if you have a relatively large stack of funds for signing bonuses.

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  17. PL says:

    This move is great and necessary for Oakland because Cahill and Mazzaro need more time at AAA and it would be nice to give Outman maximum recovery time.

    30 games of Sheets is going to be at least 2 wins more than 30 games started from Eveland, Cahill & Mazzaro. Billy Beane is always trying to get an opening day team together that could compete for the pennant, this year is no different. With the updated A’s going with plus defenders at every position on the diamond, we can expect to see ERA’s drop at a severe rate. Washburn showed last year that defense can make your pitchers look VERY good and the A’s have 5 good-to-great SPs already in addition to the games best bullpen. Yes, the AL West has 4 teams that could win it this year.

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