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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.