Ben Sheets To the A's – Billy Beane's Baseball Brain is Broken

News Item: The Oakland A’s signed SP Ben Sheets to a one-year, $10M contract with incentives.

Last week, Sheets – who hasn’t thrown a pitch in a Major League game since August 2008 – held a workout for interested teams down in his home state of Louisiana. By all accounts, Sheets was superb. His fastball topped out in the low 90s and his signature curve looked as sharp as ever.

24 hours after Sheets’ workout, reports began circulating that the erstwhile Milwaukee Brewers ace was looking for a one-year, $8M contract. I’d read that my Oakland A’s were one of the teams down in the bayou taking a first-hand look at Sheets. However, when his expected price tag became public, I figured the A’s would stand pat with a pitching staff that finished an impressive fourth in the league in ERA and a standing-room-only starting rotation that’s at least six deep on the eve of Spring Training.

The A’s apparently had money to spend after free agents Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Aroldis Chapman rejected the team’s offseason overtures (in fact, the A’s offered Scutaro and Beltre longer, more lucrative deals than what they accepted in Boston). And, like a child with Christmas money still in his pocket, the A’s spent it all on the last broken toy in the box.

Every hour since this deal went down; I’ve found new ways to hate it even more.

The A’s did NOT need pitching. They’d re-signed former All-Star Justin Duchscherer (who also didn’t pitch in 2009) for one year, $2M plus incentives. Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden pitched exceptionally well at times last year, while Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro took their lumps, but all showed legitimate promise in 2009.

The “you can never have enough pitching” argument doesn’t apply when a team signs a guy for more than twice the combined salary of their entire rotation – especially, a guy with the injury history of Sheets.

Now, let’s be generous and toss out 2009. Sheets has averaged just a tick over 150 innings pitched over his last four seasons. Former A’s starter Rich Harden – who shares Sheets’ bouts with brittleness – threw 148 and 141 innings in 2008-2009, respectively. With a MUCH stronger recent track record, Harden signed with the Rangers for 30% less than Sheets.

The only way this deal works is if two things happen: (1) The A’s contend deep into the season and (2) Sheets throws 180+ effective innings.

In case you hadn’t heard, the A’s are seriously considering Ryan Sweeney (career SLG: .387) and Kurt Suzuki (career SLG: .398) for the #3 spot in the batting order. This is a terrible offensive team that won’t contend as currently constructed. And, if Sheets throws 180+ innings, it’ll be just the second time since 2004 that he’s done so.

A’s boy-genius GM Billy Beane has fallen over himself to tamp down expectations for this team’s short term future:

“We have a long way to go. It’s going to take some time and some commitment. I don’t know in our marketplace if there’s any way to speed up that process.” – Beane on the A’s rebuilding effort, October 2009

“The only way [the A’s can eventually contend] is continued development of young players and adding more players, and acquiring young players is the most difficult thing to do. That takes time.” – Beane, December 2009

From where I sit, Beane dropped $10M on a player and – in Beane’s BEST case scenario – he flips Sheets, if healthy AND productive, for prospects and other rebuilding chips at the trade deadline.

My A’s spent $10M on the prototypical “player to be named later”…for someone else’s team.

As plans go, it fits right in with the past three years:

2007 – Brought back almost the entire team that reached the ALCS in 2006, replacing DH Frank Thomas with Mike Piazza in hopes of contending. Instead, injuries crippled the roster; the A’s finished third and began the teardown process by trading SP Dan Haren and OF Nick Swisher the following offseason.

2008 – With a younger roster in place, the A’s were surprising contenders through the first half of the season. They were eight games over .500 and just five games behind the Angels when they threw in the towel and traded SP Rich Harden on July 8, then SP Joe Blanton on July 17. At the time, Beane’s reasoning was that he didn’t believe the A’s were really contenders.

2009 – Beane’s commitment to full-on rebuilding lasted about five weeks into the 2008 offseason. The A’s acquired OF Matt Holliday and gave up one of their prized prospects for the honor. Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra were also brought in, as Beane completely changed course with an old, selfish roster that stunted the development of the kids who’ll actually be in Oakland one or two years down the road.

2010 – Make “value” the cornerstone of your promotional campaign by signing a guaranteed DL visit to a $10M contract, then selling your remaining 800 fans on the OBProspects you’ll get in return come July. You hope.

Individual regular season tickets are on sale this Saturday!

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