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Rangers GM Daniels meets with Sheets

GM Daniels meets with Sheets

LAS VEGAS -- The Rangers have made it clear that they are not going to be big players this offseason in the free-agent market.

But that didn't prevent Rangers officials -- including general manager Jon Daniels and club president Nolan Ryan -- from meeting with free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets and his agent, Casey Close, on Monday at the Winter Meetings.

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"It was just a preliminary meeting," Daniels said. "It was a chance for us to get to know him, ask questions and vice versa. I wouldn't read too much into it."

Sheets, who lives in Dallas and was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts for the Brewers this past season, figured to be one of the top free agents this winter, but his season was cut short by a strained elbow at the end of September.

He's still not expected to come cheap, and the Rangers would likely have to make a trade to free up money. There have been some clubs that have expressed preliminary interest in Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, but only as an alternative if they can't sign a free-agent pitcher.

The Braves may be interested in Millwood if they can't sign A.J. Burnett. The Braves are looking for a second starting pitcher, and Millwood pitched for them in 1997-2002. The Dodgers, who are pursuing CC Sabathia, are also looking for a veteran starting pitcher to lead their young staff and could be interested in Millwood.

Other teams actively looking for starting pitching this winter are the Rockies, Yankees, Indians, Orioles, Nationals, Tigers, Mets and Phillies.

"We've had a lot of different conversations with clubs on a variety of things," Daniels said. "It's really tough for me to say what will happen and the timing of it. Nothing has changed from what we've talked about and our plans for free agency. I don't see us getting involved at the same level as other teams. There are a few guys we have interest in and want to get a feel for it."

Sheets is one of those guys. A couple other possibilities are right-handed starter Brad Penny and right-handed reliever Chad Cordero. Both are former All-Stars who dealt with arm issues in 2008. Both might fit the Rangers' past strategy of looking for impact free agents who are willing to discuss a short-term, incentive-laden contract. Much depends on how the free-agent market develops in an uncertain economy.

Penny, who started the 2006 All-Star Game for the National League, won 16 games in both 2006 and 2007 but fell to 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA this past season while being limited to 94 2/3 innings because of shoulder inflammation.

Cordero saved 113 games in 2005-07 but pitched in just six games in 2008 before undergoing shoulder surgery. He is reportedly in Las Vegas to meet with interested teams, and the Rangers have expressed some interest early in the offseason.

"Right now, the market has developed relatively slowly," Daniels said. "The guys we're speaking to are still in the information-gathering stage."

Daniels is still more focused on finding pitching through the trade market. The Rangers would be willing to trade Hank Blalock for a front-line starting pitcher, and the Giants are looking for offensive help from one of the corner-infield positions. But Blalock can be a free agent after the 2009 season, and Giants general manager Brian Sabean is opposed to trading for a player in that situation.

"It's not going to happen," Sabean said. "Absolutely not."

The Rays are willing to trade pitcher Edwin Jackson and are looking for a right fielder. They have interest in outfielder Nelson Cruz, although the Rangers are committed to going with him in right field next season. The Twins are shopping Boof Bonser, but the Rangers' interest is lukewarm at best.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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