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Orioles: Demystifying Ben Sheets

Though I realize that hundreds of blog posts can't be wrong, I'm still going to take issue with the popular notion that free agent pitcher Ben Sheets would be a smart gamble for the Orioles at this point in the offseason.

Here are some issues that are not in dispute and would argue for taking a chance on Sheets:

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1. Sheets is a very talented pitcher who had a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts last year and has a terrific walk/strikeout ratio.

2. The Orioles still have a gaping hole in their starting rotation, if you can even call it a rotation when there currently are only two pitchers who appear certain to be in it.

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3. The O's can probably afford to do whatever they want, since they have sliced a number of well-paid players off the payroll the past couple of years.

Here are the reasons why it doesn't make nearly as much sense as some might think:

1. He's been on the disabled list five times in the last four years and has made 30 or more starts in only half his major league seasons.

2. He had a great ERA last year and still won only 13 games for a playoff-caliber team. His career ERA also is very good (3.72) and yet he's only three games over .500 for his career.

3. He ended the year with a torn forearm flexor, which remains enough of a question that he is still on the market with two weeks left before spring training.

4. The Brewers offered him arbitration to retain draft choice compensation if he signs elsewhere, but are not seriously bidding for him now.

5. He's still holding out hope of getting a two-year deal at about his 2008 salary ($11 million).

Here's my opinion:

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Now, I realize that it's not your concern whether the Orioles cough up $20 million or so on a dare, but I'd like you to try to imagine the reaction they would get if they sign Sheets and he undergoes elbow surgery in May and is lost for 1 1/2 of those two seasons. I'm pretty sure a lot of the same people who think he's such an obvious choice would be lining up to blast the O's for another brainless, short-sighted move.

But that's not even the best argument. I don't care whether the club makes money or not, but committing an eighth of your annual payroll for a guy who has never won more than 13 games in a season doesn't make any sense to me at all. Heck, Garrett Olson won only four fewer games in five fewer starts with a 6.65 ERA on a bad team.

Yeah, yeah. I realize he's got a great WHIP and he has elite talent. He might end up being a 20-game winner on a good team if he can stay healthy. I'm just trying to make the point that he likely would be a 12-game winner here if he stayed healthy and you can have all the 10-game winners you want for half the price.

I would look at the situation differently if the Orioles were on the cusp of contention, because the potential upside from that kind of gamble would be much higher with a higher quality team, but you've got to get this guy for one year and a club option for about $7 million for there to be any logic in it for the Orioles.

Now, here's your challenge: Change my mind.

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