Disclaimer: All pro-Ben Sheets opinions expressed below should be quietly forgotten about as soon as the medical reports appear that reveal Ben Sheets arm has already fallen off. This would also explain why he is still a free agent in the middle of January, and make this analysis a complete waste of time (aside from the bit about not signing Perez, which would still be true).
MetsBlog’s Matthew Cerrone transcribes some comments from SI.com’s Tom Verducci, and also provides his own insight into Ben Sheets’ possible demands. The Mets like him, but they want to do a heavily incentive-based deal similar to Brad Penny’s. Sheets, having had a much better season than Penny, is apparently seeking two years and $18MM or so with a third-year option.
Now my reflex is to say, yes, $9M a year looks like a bargain for an ace who threw 198 innings last year. But no, the Mets don’t want to pay more than $5M a year for him, despite reportedly offering 3 years $30M to Oliver Perez. Thus the Mets think Oliver Perez is twice as good as Ben Sheets.
Or in summary, I say, Ben Sheets is really good and the Mets should sign him ASAP. The Mets say he is half as good as Oliver Perez. Who’s right?
Let’s look at some numbers to find out:
Here is a comparison of the free agent pitchers available this off season. I’ve taken the data from fangraphs, where they’ve used the fancy win values thing (description here). As we are considering free agents we’ll consider their value to the team in cash. I’ve taken their performance from 2002-2008 and calculated how much a season of each pitcher (200 innings) is worth in salary terms if they carry on performing as they have over the last 6 years. I’ve also added ERA+ for 2008 to get an idea of how league average each pitcher is.
So important points here: 1) Oliver Perez is not worth the 3 years, $30M than the Mets have reportedly offered him; what you are paying for if you sign him is his relative youth, lefthandedness, fancy skip over the foul line, and some mysterious untapped potential (apparently Randy Johnson wasn’t great at the same age either). You’d also lose the draft picks that he gives you if he signs for someone else. And that 1st round and sandwich pick could easily become more valuable than Mr League average pitcher, with a 2008 ERA+ of exactly 100, Oliver Perez (unless he suddenly adds control and about 2 foot in height, and becomes Randy Johnson).
2) Ben Sheets is nearly as good value for money as CC Sabathia. The Mets offer of $5M a year is insulting. But awesome if he somehow decides to sign it. The only argument against Derek Lowe is his age.
3) AJ Burnett is pretty comparable to Oliver Perez, another league average pitcher; I guess the Yankees paid all that cash for him because they really needed to replace Carl Pavano on the DL. (Interesting comparison of Sheets vs AJ Burnett in terms of injuries here. Not much to choose between the two of them, it seems Sheets got injured at the worst possible time; he is clearly the better pitcher the Yankees should’ve taken a punt on/thrown a ridiculous contract at Sheets instead).
4) Looking at 2008 performances, Tim Redding looks a relative bargain and is probably as effective as Jon Garland or Randy Wolf (although both have been slightly more valuable than Redding, Perez or Burnett in the past. Looks like all 4 of these pitchers hover around league average, and should be paid accordingly. League average pitching is obviously worth something, but certainly not what AJ and Ollie expect to be paid.
So in summary, Sabathia, Sheets and Lowe all look like difference makers to a team, the rest of the players available this offseason look league average at best. In which case if you can’t sign one of those guys it is probably best to save your cash and try out a reclamation project or two (Brad Penny and John Smoltz, for instance), attempt to acquire someone who has potential but is out of favour, the same way the Mets got Perez and Maine, or find cheaper league average players like Tim Redding, and save your cash and draft picks for when a more valuable player becomes available.
Next time on My First Baseball Blog, I’ll ignore all these made up stats like ERA+ and win value, and instead judge these players by the stats that really matter, like wins and ‘intangibles’, in order to help us all understand why the Mets passed on Ben Sheets, and signed Jon Garland to a 7 year, $300M contract.