The Risk and Reward of Ben Sheets


Word today from the front lines of the off season is that Ben Sheets will be throwing for several teams on Tuesday down in Louisiana, and according to Tim Kurkijan of ESPN, the Mariners are probably one of them. Sheets is a name that has been brought up numerous times this off season in Mariner-land, and although it’s really unclear as to exactly what he’s going to be able to do in 2010, the thought of slotting him in behind Felix and Cliff Lee is enough to make an M’s fan drool.

Obviously, the big question about Sheets is his health. He missed the entire 2009 season after having elbow surgery to repair a torn tendon, and although he claims to be completely healthy, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that you should take that with a grain of salt. A player who’s looking for a pay day is never going to admit it if he’s unhealthy. The fact is, regardless of what he or his agent say, when you sign a player like Ben Sheets, you’re taking a big risk, and signing high risk players is something that needs to be handled delicately.

But what about the reward? A quick glance at his Fangraphs page will tell you all you need to know about his talent. 3.56 career FIP, 4.03 career tRA, 3.85 career K/BB. He also has a mid 90’s fastball and a good curve to go with it – at least, before the injuries he did. Yeah, he’s good. And if he were able to return to, say, 2008 form, the Mariners would easily have the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball, and one of the best rotations in general. That’s why guys like Sheets, Harden, and Bradley are called high risk/high reward guys. You certainly aren’t getting any guarantee that you’re going to get good production when you acquire one of them, and they can potentially end up as complete wastes of money, but under the right circumstances, and with a little luck, they can easily turn out to be worth the risk and then some.

But even with the extremely high upside on a guy like Sheets, there’s a reason you have to be careful. If you can have him for 5 or 6 million dollars, and it doesn’t work out, it’s not all that big of a deal. Yeah, it’s annoying, and it probably costs you a win or two that you could have gotten from spending that money elsewhere, but you can live with it. However, if you pay $13 million for one season of Ben Sheets and he’s out all year with an arm injury, that’s a lot of money down the drain. I’m not saying that there’s necessarily someone else on the market that would be more worthy of that money, only without the risk factor*, but when you basically give away that kind of cash without getting anything back, not only is it a huge waste of resources, but it’s going to make a lot of fans really unhappy. Now, I in no way think that Jack Zduriencik should avoid making moves just for the sake of pleasing the fans, but a happy fan base is certainly a good thing for an organization.

It’s not so much about the fan aspect anyway, though – you just don’t spend 3 market value wins (or 6 Jack Zduriencik value wins) worth of money on a player who has roughly a 50% chance of producing. It just isn’t smart, and that’s why there’s no chance the Mariners, or any team for that matter, give Ben Sheets 12 or 13 million dollars guaranteed. However, if the Mariners could get him on something like a 1 year/$5-6 million contract with a few million in incentives, I’d be all for it.

*there probably isn’t.