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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 26, 2010 at 12:30 PM

Sheets signs with Oakland

sheets.jpg

I was tied up this morning with a doctor’s appointment, during which the news broke that Ben Sheets has signed with the Oakland A’s. He’ll earn $10 million plus performance bonuses. Remember, Sheets didn’t throw a major-league pitch in 2009 while recovering from elbow surgery, and has had a series of ailments in the midst of being a No. 1-caliber starter during his intermittent stretches of healthiness.

While I, like many Mariner fans, was intrigued by the prospect of adding Sheets’ potential to a rotation already top-heavy with aces Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, this seems like a pretty big expenditure for someone as fragile as Sheets. But if it works out, and Sheets is healthy, the A’s could really make some noise this year. And if not, as many of you have wisely pointed out, Beane will just flip Sheets at the trade deadline for more prospects, as he did last year with Matt Holliday.

In fact, this is shaping up as an extremely competitive AL West. I know, that’s what we all said last year, and it was indeed more competitive than the year before, but the Angels still out-classed the field by a notable margin. This time around, however, the Angels shouldn’t be as good, the Rangers and Mariners should be better, and the A’s are a huge wild card with a lot of upside potential. Billy Beane has pretty much written off the last few years in order to restock the organization with young players, making a series of trades in which he stockpiled prospects. If those prospects pan out, the A’s will be quite dangerous, and Sheets is a nice veteran piece that could help stabilize things. Mariners personnel last year were effusive in their praise of lefty starter Brett Anderson; Don Wakamatsu believes he’s a star in the making. Justin Duchscherer, who was an All-Star caliber starter before injuries and clinical depression slowed him down, has re-signed with the A’s and says he’s a new man, completely healthy. They have other interesting names like Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro.

The A’s, like the Mariners, had a power deficiency in 2009, hitting only 135 homers, fewest in the American League (the M’s were tied for the third fewest, 160). But the A’s scored 759 runs — over 100 more than the M’s 640 runs. They’ve added Coco Crisp, who won’t add much pop, and Jake Fox and Kevin Kouzmanoff, who might. Here’s Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle’s early projection for the Opening Day lineup when the M’s and A’s square off in Oakland April 5:

(If Felix starts): Rajai Davis LF, Crisp CF, Ryan Sweeney RF, Kouzmanoff 3B, Jack Cust DH, Kurt Suzuki C, Daric Barton 1B, Mark Ellis 2B, Cliff Pennington SS (Duchscherer P). Against Lee, she says, reverse Sweeney and Suzuki, and notes, “I might also start Fox over Cust, but Bob Geren probably wouldn’t).” The A’s also have, don’t forget, rookie of the year Andrew Bailey as closer (26 saves and a 1.84 ERA in 2009). First baseman Chris Carter and outfielder Michael Taylor are blue-chip prospects that have the A’s very excited, but both will likely start at Triple-A.

The A’s are an intriguing team, even more so now that they have Ben Sheets. What might be next for the Mariners? I’ll talk about that in my next post.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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