The Brewers’ 25-man is shaping up, with the most pressing needs a reserve middle infielder, a reserve (and left-handed hitting) outfielder, and a starting pitcher (I dismiss Melvin’s pursuit of Trevor Hoffman as a necessity, as the team still has Seth McClung, David Riske, and 2-3 other internal options for a closer, not to mention Jason Isringhausen and other closers still unsigned).
The reserve middle infielder is relatively easy–guys like Ray Durham (not a great option at short) or Craig Counsell (not a great option at all) are still out there, as is Hernan Iribarren (who bats lefty by the way); Tony Gywnn, Jr., could also fill in as the fifth outfielder, behind Chris Duffy…with Trot Nixon still a possibility if a veteran is needed (all three bat left-handed, as well).
So…that leaves the starting pitcher spot left to fill.
True, the Crew could break Maryvale with a rotation of Gallardo, Suppan, Bush, Parra, and McClung or Villanueva…but none are truly going to evolve into the “ace” of the club. Of the free agent aces out there, Melvin seems to have already dismissed Derek Lowe as being unaffordable and/or unwanted, meaning just one option truly remains: Ben Sheets.
Sheets, who will turn 31 in July, is coming off his best season, ERA wise, since his 2.70 mark in 2004. Sheets went 13-9, 3.09 in ’08, with 31 starts (also his best since ’04), 158 K’s (best since 264 K’s in ’04), and was fairly consistent throughout the season–2.85 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break versus a 3.46 ERA in 13 starts after the break.
But Sheets got injured again in ’08, and this in the latest of rash of injuries that has plagued the righty seems to be too much for some teams, according to Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News. Still, the Texas Rangers are considered the front-runner and probably the only team other than possibly the Brewers still considering Sheets for a multi-year deal. Even then, Sheets will be considerably lucky to get a 3-year deal at this point; a 2-year contract with a club option for a third is far more likely.
Melvin is gambling, however, that the Rangers’ hands are tied until they unload either Kevin Millwood’s or Vincente Padilla’s salary. Still, the Rangers would seem to have a pretty good grasp on what Sheets’ is looking for–and what the Rangers will eventually offer–so, it would seem, Doug Melvin should be trying to get in on this conversation until it becomes too late. If the Brewers have any interest whatsoever in Sheets, now is the time to start contacting Sheets’ agent…even if it is only to gauge Sheets’ receptiveness to a 1-year deal with a player option for a second year.
In the absence of such a dialogue, the Brewers may find themselves with Paul Byrd or Braden Looper as their “ace” for 2009…something many fans will find unappetizing.