Brewers, Sheets no closer to reunion

Brewers, Sheets no closer to reunion

MILWAUKEE -- At every winter stop, a Brewers fan would ask general manager Doug Melvin the same question, and it was usually the first one asked.

Is there any chance the Brewers will look at re-signing Ben Sheets?

The answer, every time, is the same.

"I don't anticipate so," Melvin says, just as he did Saturday at "Brewers On Deck."

Then comes the caveat: "I don't see it happening at this time, at least."

The Brewers' official position remains that they have not closed the door on Sheets and his agent, Casey Close. But the team is unwilling to give the 30-year-old right-hander the multi-year deal he is seeking, and might not even offer enough guaranteed money in a one-year deal to pique Sheets' interest.

Proof of Melvin's open-door policy came just after the new year, when he reached out to Close. The call was prompted by two Boston Red Sox signings. First they signed Brad Penny to a one-year deal that pays a $5 million base salary with incentives that could add another $3 million. Then they finalized a one-year contract with John Smoltz that guarantees $5.5 million and could pay as much as $10 million with incentives.

Melvin wanted to know whether Sheets and Close were open to a similar offer, and it appears they were not. According to Melvin, the men have not spoken since. Close has not responded to multiple inquiries from this winter.

Sheets' representatives reportedly tried to allay clubs' concerns about his injury history by releasing new medical information last week. If that's the case, they did not send that information to the Brewers.

That led Melvin to this conclusion:

"It doesn't appear that Ben will be back," Melvin said.

Yet it is tempting to keep in mind that Sheets has pitched for the Brewers his entire career, and could be tempted to return if he does not find any attractive offers elsewhere. In Milwaukee he would be the team's No. 1 starter and would add depth to a rotation that currently has precious little. Brewers officials say they want to preserve payroll flexibility to make a move once the season starts, but the opportunity to land Sheets at a bargain price could be tempting.

Hot Stove
He was the team's first-round Draft pick in 1999, attained Olympic glory the following summer and was in the Majors by 2001, a rookie on the National League All-Star team. It was the first of Sheets' four All-Star appearances in a Brewers uniform, including a nod to start the 2008 Game.

In all, Sheets pitched 1,428 innings in 221 Brewers starts, third most in franchise history. He holds the franchise record with 1,206 strikeouts, and with the departure of Geoff Jenkins during the 2007-2008 offseason, Sheets was the team's longest-tenured player.

Yet there were issues of durability that led the Brewers and Sheets to part ways. He was on the disabled list five times in the last four seasons. Sheets avoided the DL in 2008, but he was forced to miss Milwaukee's first postseason series in 26 years because of a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. He was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts.

Despite the injury at the end of the season, the Brewers decided to offer Sheets arbitration this winter, a move partially aimed at securing a compensatory Draft pick should Sheets -- a Type A free agent -- sign elsewhere. Had he accepted, Sheets would have likely been granted a modest raise from his $11 million salary last season.

Instead he tested the open market. The Yankees had interest in Sheets before they re-signed Andy Pettitte, leaving the Texas Rangers as Sheets' most likely destination. Sheets has a home near Dallas, and he met with Rangers officials last week. He has a staunch supporter there in new Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who used to fill the same role in Milwaukee.

"Obviously, the reason he is still unsigned is because of his history," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said this week. "All ballclubs are a little cautious in their actions right now. I'm sure he'll settle in with somebody."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.