It's not been a great offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitching coach Mike Maddux went to Texas, leaving behind a gaggle of rebuilt careers and successful reclamation projects. Utility outfielder/cult hero Gabe Kapler signed in Tampa Bay, and it sounds like rubber-armed left-handed reliever Brian Shouse is headed that way.
Of course, you all know about that big left-hander who decided to move on.
Still in limbo is Milwaukee's other veteran starting pitcher. Ben Sheets missed the end of last season with another injury. As frustrating as his injury issues are, there's no doubt Sheets has plenty of talent. He's not as snakebit as Mark Prior was, and he's a free agent. It's amazing to me that no pitching-starved team has thrown money at Ben yet, but that's the situation we are in.
Sheets is still unsigned.
Part of this is his own doing. He's been looking for too much money. It's pretty obvious that baseball free agency has been impacted quite a bit by the economy. I get Sporting News Today delivered to my email every morning, and it's amazing how many good players are still without jobs. Guys like Joe Crede, Ivan Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, and Manny Ramirez (!) join Sheets on the unemployment line. The World Baseball Classic begins on March 5, and if the next month is as quiet on the "baseball signing" front as the previous one was, there are some guys who may want to play in the WBC to showcase their abilities.
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Brewers grand master Tom Haudricourt is more blunt than I. He says Sheets screwed up by not taking arbitration and at least $12 million from the Brewers.)
Sheets is one of the players who probably doesn't have the WBC as an option. With no team to go to spring training with, there's no guarantee Sheets would be in any kind of game shape, and if he's not in shape, why would you let him pitch exhibition games?
Some players may have options, but Sheets really isn't one of them. He needs to find a team, work out a deal, and show up early to spring training. The longer he sits, the less money he'll find waiting for him when he actually signs somewhere.
As aggravating as his injury history is, I'd much rather see him re-sign in Milwaukee than go anywhere else. Yes, the Brewers have young guns Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra. Yes, they have an apparently emerging Dave Bush and a potentially returning Chris Capuano. But Parra faded down the stretch, Bush has never been consistently effective, and Gallardo was hurt for much of last season.
Even with Sheets, it could be a long year for the Brewers' starting pitching.