Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Valuable is Ben Sheets?

With another solid outing the other night against the Phillies, Ben Sheets improved to 4-1 in his first five starts since June 15th.  He went a season-high 7.1 ING before being lifted and allowed one run on a solo homer while walking a batter and giving up seven hits.  Curiously, he struck out no one after entering the game with a superb 8.4 K/9 rate which might make us think that Sheets lacked his best stuff.  In addition, let's not kid ourselves - this version of the Phillies is hardly formidable.

Just the same, Sheets continued to build on his successful start and has brought a level of stability to the top of the rotation that simply did not exist after Brandon Beachy's injury.  Signing Sheets has appeared to be Frank Wren's best free agent signing to date since getting his current gig.

Naturally, Atlanta fans are beginning to be curious about how Sheets will fit in next year and beyond.  Or at all, for that matter.

Without getting the buggy before the horse, Sheets has five starts in two seasons and was last a major player for a rotation during a full season in 2008.  He's not exactly Mr. Durable.  So far, Sheets has relied heavily on his cutter to supplement his game, a stark change from his years in Milwaukee when he essentially was using his curveball to offset the hard stuff.  Now, he still has one of the game's best curveballs, but the cutter has kept batters off balanced and made his fastball all the more problematic.  The change began two years ago, when as an Athletic, he began to incorporate the cutter a career-best 5%.  Now, he uses it almost 14% of the time.  This is a considerable move for Sheets because before this year, he never had a third pitch.  He occasionally brought out the changeup, but 90-95% of the time, you either got a fastball or a curveball.  Both were great pitches and the Sheets' stuff and masterful location still made him successful.  His cutter isn't up to the level of his other two pitches, but it gives him something else and has helped to bring back the effectiveness of his curveball.

With every outing, Sheets is giving Atlanta what it desperately needed and is helping soothe the sadness of not getting an ace before the trading deadline.  In addition, he might be pricing himself out of the Braves' plans for next season.  This season, Sheets will receive the prorated amount of $2.5M, or a shade over a million.  He can and probably will reach all of his incentives if he remains healthy to add $1.5M to the total investment for Atlanta.  Even for three-and-a-half months, $2.7M or so is a paltry sum for Sheets.  He will not be that cheap in the offseason.

Obviously, I write this under the belief that Sheets remains healthy.  Chances are solid, I believe, that Sheets can command as much as $8M easily, especially over a short-term deal.  At 34 and with an injury-laden history, Sheets can probably only get two years and that's pushing it.  Some teams may look to get some assurances that they can get out of the second year of possible or simply make it a 1+1 year with an option for the second season. 

So, the question must be asked...will Ben Sheets be a Brave next year?  I want to believe that he will be provided some conditions are met.  Clearly, he has to remain healthy.  Second, I don't see the Braves engaging in a bidding war for his services.  Either their offer is good enough or he will be on his way.  That might require Sheets to take less.  And third, it cannot be anymore than two seasons.  So, if Sheets stays healthy, I'll plug in a 2-year deal with $16M plus another $4M in incentives.  $1M for 30 games started in both seasons, $1M for a Cy Young, $1M for 380 combined innings during the life of the deal.  My gut says Sheets will get more and I don't believe the Braves can match that. 

To help with finances, I would also lock up Tim Hudson for 2 years and $15M.  He has a $9M option for next season so the money saved won't be great, but Huddy might be willing to take some money deferred.  He obviously doesn't want to leave and having Huddy and Sheets at the top of the rotation until they are passed by some of the younger pitchers would provide stability and experience.  Both have injury concerns, but I believe Atlanta can take a shot.  If more payroll flexibility is required, trading Tommy Hanson is always an option.

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Not Braves related, but you may have noticed that this blog has received some sporadic updates lately.  Part of it was due to the internet issues I was having with the Verizon jetpack router.  The other part and the part that continues is that my wife and I are nearing closing on a house.  As we prepare for the move and get settled in the new house, updates might be tough.  I am excited about this blog and still have ideas.  This weekend, I hope to add a player to the Walk-Off Walk Favorite Atlanta Braves squad and also, another random prospect. 

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