Waiting in wings, Sheets draws interest

Waiting in wings, Sheets draws interest

ARLINGTON -- So far, Ben Sheets has sat quietly in the background while other free-agent starting pitchers have been getting big offers from clubs.

But that could end soon, as some of these starters like CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett have landed jobs and clubs look elsewhere to fill needs. The Rangers have been open about their interest in Sheets and the feeling is mutual.

"It is our policy to refrain from comment on any specific talks with clubs, but it is fair to say that Ben does have sincere interest in the Rangers," Sheets' agent, Casey Close, said by e-mail on Friday.

The Yankees and the Braves could also get involved with Sheets, according to Major League sources. The Rangers' one advantage is Sheets is from Louisiana and has a home in Dallas.

The Yankees have already landed Sabathia and Burnett. General manager Brian Cashman also met with Andy Pettitte this week in an attempt to get him back in a Yankees uniform. But Sheets could be a viable option if Pettitte does not return.

Sheets could be an alternative for the Braves after missing out on Burnett.

Sheets was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts for the Brewers this past season and was the National League starter in the All-Star Game. He might have been right there with Sabathia as far as attracting interest but he was shut down at the end of the season with a strained right elbow.

Injuries are the biggest concern with Sheets. He hasn't pitched 200 innings since 2004 and his 13 wins in 2008 were a career high. But his 3.24 ERA over the past five years is the ninth lowest among all Major League pitchers with at least 500 innings in that stretch. He has allowed last just 9.96 baserunners per nine innings in the past five years, second lowest in the league, and he is second with 5.16 strikeouts per walk.

Hot Stove

"I haven't seen Ben Sheets pitch as much as I have some people," Brewers manager Ken Macha said at the Winter Meetings. "But he's a great pitcher. When he first came over he was lights-out, had 31 starts, I think, last year, which was a tremendous amount for him, one of the highest of his career. So he's another guy who can go out there and be top of the rotation guy."

The Brewers offered Sheets arbitration and he declined. But that doesn't rule out the possibility of a return to Milwaukee, and there was some conversation between the two sides at the Winter Meetings.

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