Here are some random facts about
The A's are a team famous for being more clever than they actually are, at least if you go by results. They've lost 259 games in the last three seasons because of dubious commitments to injury prone and lousy players, puzzling trades, and, perhaps, a general lack of creativity. Oakland general manager
Over the last several years, a key Oakland strategy has involved trying to drain the last dregs of talent from former stars like
Even if he did miss all of last season with an injury, Sheets is clearly different from the players named above. He's far closer to his prime and more likely to do something special, but it's a difference of degree, and he represents all the flaws of his class. There just isn't a lot reason to think he'll do much more than he's paid for, and getting players who do that is what a really clever team does.
Over his last four seasons (2004-08), Sheets has averaged about 120 innings with a 3.45 ERA. If he does that for the A's, he'll be worth about what he's paid. If he does more than that, he'll be paid more. For him to create any real extra value he'll have to pitch like a true ace, and there's little reason to think he's physically capable of doing so. It's not a bad signing, just an uninspired one. As a broke team in a tough division, the A's need to do better than that.
Down in San Diego, the Padres made a far sharper signing this week. Unlike Sheets,
Beane made his reputation exploiting market inefficiencies, an unfortunate bit of jargon that just means he had an eye for players who were worth more than they cost. He used statistics to find them, something you can't really do anymore. Aside from the real paste eaters, every team understands that it's better to have hitters who get on base than those who don't, and that there is some benefit to be had from evaluating defense with math.
There are still inefficiencies out there, though, and taken together these two signings hint at a big one, the hardwired human desire to hit a jackpot. Teams are more willing than they should be to bet a lot on the small chance that a player will be really great, and curiously uninterested in paying for a sure thing. That the A's are on the wrong side of this might seem a bit odd given their reputation, but then that always had less to do with how sharp they were than how dull some of their rivals were.
If you want proof that there are really fewer dull operators than there once were, just think about what a sad few months it's been for those cynics who really enjoy seeing teams do stupid things. No team has had a really horrific winter, and with little but dross left on the market, no team is likely to have one. This leaves the always pressing issue of which team has had the worst offseason a matter of judgment. Others would differ, but I see three clear candidates: The Mets, the Royals and, surprisingly, the Phillies.
The Mets' problems are obvious. While they brought on
The Royals' problems are just as obvious. With little talent past the great
This leaves the Phillies. Having traded for
At the most basic level, Lofton has a reasonable case. He's one of 10 players to reach 2,400 hits and 600 steals. Of the others, eight are in the Hall and the ninth is
His case gets even better if you look at it more closely. I'm a bit skeptical of metastatistics, if only because the value of a great player is in the small memories and perfect moments of joy to which he contributed, not in an integer, and dry numbers can sometimes make us forget that. Still,
Say what you will about players who hold their peace about drugs until they're safely retired, but Lofton has a bit of a point. Relatively subtle skills like his went unappreciated in an era of synthetic hormones and long home runs. That's probably going to keep him from getting a fair look from the Hall electorate, and it really isn't fair.
• The Twins have such a long lived and long deserved reputation for winning with pitching, defense and place hitting that it's a shock when you realize
• By signing
• If right fielder