Oakland took a mighty gamble Tuesday on Sheets, agreeing to terms with the free-agent righty on a US$10-million, one-year contract only 11 months after he underwent elbow surgery that sidelined him all of last season.
A four-time all-star, the 31-year-old Sheets becomes the team’s second-highest paid player behind six-time Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez.
“We were either going to get him with what we had or we weren’t, and we had to be aggressive about it,” Beane said.
Manager Bob Geren immediately called Sheets his ace and opening-day starter.
When Sheets repeatedly hit 92 miles per hour on the radar gun pitching for a big audience at his alma mater in Louisiana, taking a shot on him seemed like a no-brainer for Beane and his typically small-spending franchise.
“This is where I wanted to be. I’m glad they welcomed me with open arms,” Sheets said, wearing a new green A’s cap when formally introduced at the Coliseum. “I think I’m 100 per cent physically ready to go.”
Sheets was so set on sticking to his routine that he played long toss with Geren’s oldest son, Bobby, after having dinner Monday night with Beane and members of the front office. He threw on turf, under the lights in a drizzle. Sheets was headed off to throw a bullpen session to Geren on Tuesday afternoon, too.
Sheets will now be able to back off his throwing program slightly to make sure he doesn’t overdo it during the spring so he’s ready for the start of the season in April.
He was put through an extensive physical Tuesday morning.
“Is there a risk? Yeah,” Beane said. “That’s life on the edge a little bit. You’ve got a guy in the prime of his career who’s done what he’s done. If he didn’t have the injury, you’ve got a guy who probably would have been signed back in November to a long-term deal.”
Sheets has been plagued by injuries. He didn’t pitch in the majors last season while recovering from elbow surgery but last week held a pitching session for several scouts.
The A’s sent two representatives to watch Sheets, director of player personnel Billy Owens and minor league roving pitching instructor Gil Patterson.
“They liked what they saw,” assistant GM David Forst said. “Enough to lead us to think that we should pursue this.”
Said Beane: “He didn’t disappoint. For January, he was probably further ahead of most pitchers.”
The A’s figure they had serious competition from about a half-dozen other clubs to sign Sheets. He can earn an additional $2 million in performance bonuses based on innings: $500,000 each for 165, 175, 185 and 195 innings pitched.
Sheets attended an A’s-Rangers game with seven-year-old son Seaver – named after Hall of Famer Tom Seaver – while rehabilitating last summer in Texas. The Rangers also were seriously in the mix for his services.
Sheets spent his first eight seasons with Milwaukee, going 86-83 with a 3.72 ERA. He struck out a career-high 264 in 2004.
“Missing this whole year and concentrating on everything, I feel renewed for the game. I’m really antsy to get back out there,” Sheets said. “I miss the competitive part of this game.”
Sheets joins two-time all-star Justin Duchscherer, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden, with the other rotation spot likely going to either Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill or Vin Mazzaro.
Duchscherer underwent arthroscopic right elbow surgery on March 31 and later was treated for clinical depression. He got an incentive-laden, one-year contract.
Sheets had surgery last February to repair a torn flexor tendon that he hurt in 2008.
A year ago, pre-surgery, Sheets had his mind made up that he would pitch closer to where he grew up in the South: for Texas, Houston or Atlanta. Now, he says, “It doesn’t matter where you play.”
Sheets and the Rangers had been in negotiations on a two-year contract last winter but a physical for the 2008 all-star game starter revealed the elbow problem.
Sheets joins an upgraded Oakland roster featuring new centre fielder Coco Crisp and new third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. The A’s finished with 75 wins for the second straight season and last in the AL West.
“I knew a market was going to develop as soon as I could show I was healthy,” Sheets said.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this story.