At first glance, Ben Sheets doesn't appear like much of a trade target. He has an ERA over 5.00, he's walking a batter every two innings and his team is just two games out of a playoff spot. Not only that, he's making a base salary of $10MM this year. But if the A's fall from contention and Sheets builds on his current hot streak, he could attract interest on the trade market.
Sheets started the season poorly and even gave up eight-plus earned runs in back-to-back starts, but he may have been tipping his pitches early on. Only the hitters who faced him know if he was tipping his pitches, but this much is clear: Sheets has pitched much better recently. Since May 8th, he has a 2.52 ERA, has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and has 29 strikeouts with 12 walks.
Still, Sheets, who has generally had low walk rates, is now walking more hitters than ever. It's less worrisome when you consider that his walk rates have traditionally improved over the course of the season. Sheets missed all of 2009 with elbow surgery, so he may still be finding his way around the strike zone. That's what Sheets thinks, anyway. He recently told Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle that he's "starting to settle in."
Most MLB starters will look good if you highlight their best four-start stretch of the season, but Sheets' recent success is just part of the reason his trade value is picking up. His average fastball is 91 mph this year, just a bit lower than his career norms. That suggests he's healthy after last year's operation. The A's aren't taking any chances, however; they have only allowed Sheets to reach the 100 pitch plateau twice in his ten starts.
Teams could have interest if the A's fall from contention, but they would probably want to see improved control and continued health from Sheets. He cannot be offered arbitration after the season, so no acquiring team will have the chance to obtain draft picks. Even if Sheets stays healthy, the A’s would likely have to eat salary in any trade, since there are many cheaper, more predictable options available.