So Jon Heyman has called his shot. Ben Sheets to the Astros- 2 yrs/$28 million. Sounds reasonable to me for a number of reasons.
First of all, there are the dollar and year amounts to consider. A two year contract would be set to expire in 2010, the same year as Kaz Matsui and a year before Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Within a year's time, the Astros could shed $50 million dollars in payroll. Even if the Astros pick up Roy Oswalt's option for 2012, that year would see Carlos Lee and Oswalt's contracts expire. Regardless- our most expensive commitments would be extinguished within 2 years of one another. At this point, when the likes of Hunter Pence or any of the promising minor leaguers will reach free agent eligibility, money will be freed up to retain their services.
At $14 million dollars a season, the team would be getting a slight bargain in signing a pitcher of Sheets' caliber. Projected WARPs of 3.5 for 2009, and 3.0 for 2010 averages out to be higher than the two year average of "more attractive" free agent starter, Derek Lowe (3.6 in 2009, 2.9 in 2010). While AJ Burnett's projected WARP average for the next two seasons is higher than that of Sheets (4.1 to 3.25, respectively), he will most likely be asking for more than a two year deal. After these two names, I don't see any obvious choices to bring in that would provide the lift that Ben Sheets would. Braden Looper is 34 and should average a 1.0 WARP for the next two years. Jon Garland is 2 years younger than Sheets but would also offer a lower WARP average for the next 2 seasons (2.9). TangoTiger's Salary Scale shows us that in terms of $ value per WAR, neither of these pitchers can offer what Sheets can in 2009 and 2010.
We can look back to recent FA signings to put this hypothetical Sheets deal into perspective. Last year we just can't do it- only one pitcher, Carlos Silva, was offered a multi-year contract. The fact that for an average of $12 million, the Mariners got these numbers, $14 million for 140 innings of Ben Sheets already sounds reasonable. In 2006 though, many starting pitcher accepted multi-year FA contracts. The most similar contract accepted by a free agent starter, in terms of years and dollar amount, to the one that Heyman suggested Sheets would sign for was Mike Mussina's 2 yr/$23 million contract from the Yankees. Ted Lilly's 4 yr/$40 million deal with the Cubs would be twice as long as Sheets' contract and for less money, but their ages (30) when the deals were signed are the same. Lilly impressed in 2007 with a WARP of 7.5. His WARP for 2008 should be lower than that as his statistics regressed this season, but there is another fairly recent deal to sink your teeth into.