PLAYER TO WATCH
Based on reports from A's camp about Ben Sheets's impact on his new rotation mates, you half expected to walk into the team's spring clubhouse in Phoenix and find the 31-year-old four-time All-Star sitting at his locker, a cluster of young starters listening attentively at his knee. But that's not exactly Sheets's preferred method of communication. "My role on the staff is, f------ get out there and pitch good," says the Baton Rouge native. "You can tell somebody what you want, but if you don't pitch good, you ain't worth a s--- to nobody."
"He's colorful, to say the least," says lefthander Dallas Braden, 26, one of three Oakland starters who have yet to see their 27th birthday. "There's no better guy to lead us than him."
The A's, who had the AL's third-best staff ERA (4.26) in 2009, gave Sheets a one-year, $10 million free-agent deal not for his potential to be a clubhouse sage but because they liked what they saw in a January workout in Louisiana. With scouts from 20 teams looking on, he demonstrated that he was recovered from surgery to repair a torn elbow tendon that caused him to miss all of last season. Sheets's stats weren't pretty this spring—he had a 17.28 ERA in his first four outings—but he insisted that his arm felt fine.
The big righthander's stay in Oakland might not last long. If he pitches well and the A's, as expected, aren't ready to contend, he's a prime candidate to be flipped to a playoff hopeful for prospects this summer.
Home runs hit by Oakland outfielders last year, the second-lowest total in the AL. (The Royals had 30.) There won't be much outfield pop this year either. Combined, projected starters Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney have homered once every 62.3 at bats in their careers.
The image of the A's was established by Michael Lewis's best-selling Moneyball, which described how Billy Beane stockpiled players such as Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs and John Jaha, lumbering sluggers who worked counts and ran only at gunpoint. The 2000--02 A's stole 154 bases in three years. Last year's team stole 133 all by itself, fourth-most in the AL. Given the lack of power and OBP on the 2010 roster, Oakland's best chance for a productive offense may be to lead the league in steals. The A's retained Rajai Davis, who stole 41 bases in '09. They signed Coco Crisp, who was 13 for 15 before shoulder injuries ended his season in June. Prospect Michael Taylor was 21 for 26 in the Phillies' system. It's not easy to steal enough bases with a high enough success rate for them to be a weapon, but the 2010 A's may have the personnel—and the need—to give it a shot.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Bob Geren
4TH SEASON WITH ATHLETICS
10 8 2.54 1.00
11 11 4.06 1.28
8 9 3.89 1.36
10 13 4.63 1.44
6 26 1.84 0.88
6 4 2.63 0.95
JOHN BIEVER (SHEETS)
MOVING UP? The A's aren't contenders, but Sheets may be with one soon.
BRAD MANGIN (DAVIS)