Ben Sheets: Milwaukee's Forgotten Ace

Jesse MotiffSenior Analyst IOctober 15, 2009

MILWAUKEE - JULY 29: Starting pitcher Ben Sheets #15 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers the ball against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park July 29, 2008 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Milwaukee Brewers are in desperate need of starting pitching help. Ben Sheets is in desperate need of a team for the 2010 season. Are the two a perfect fit for a reunion or a couple that would be best served to stay separated?

Ben Sheets has had high expectations his entire career, and when healthy, he has lived up to those expectations quite well.

Sheets was the first round pick of the Brewers in the 1999 draft. It didn't take long before fans were expecting him to be the new "ace" of the Brewers' rotation.

As a member of the 2000 Olympic team, he was put into a pressure cooker when manager Tommy Lasorda made him the starter for the Gold Medal game. Sheets responded with a complete game shutout of the favored Cuban club.

The following year saw the arrival of Sheets in a Brewers uniform. He showed he was ready for that challenge as well. He won 11 games in 25 starts while being named to the All-Star team. It was the first of four All-Star game appearances.

Sheets won 11 games in each of his first three seasons before having a breakout year in 2004.

Despite winning just 12 games that year, he finished with a 2.70 ERA and struck out a team record 264 batters while walking only 32. He finished eighth in Cy Young balloting and clearly established himself as one of the top starters in the league.

Sheets was rewarded with a new contract at the start of 2005 season. He signed a four-year, $38.5 million deal that was the largest contract ever signed by a Brewers player at the time.

Those four years would be filled with Sheets bouncing back-and-forth off of the disabled list, but still pitching at a high level when healthy. He never finished a season with an ERA over 3.82 but only averaged 23 starts a season.

Brewer fans were hardest hit at the end of the 2008 when Sheets was unable to pitch in the postseason. Matters were made worse when Sheets needed offseason surgery on a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. The Brewers were stuck picking up the tab on the surgery.

Sheets became a free agent and would net the Brewers draft pick compensation due to his slotting as a type-A free agent. However, since he was injured and the timetable on his return was unknown, no team offered Sheets a contract—although the Texas Rangers appeared close to a deal with him.

Since he remained unsigned, the Brewers lost any possible compensation in the form of draft picks. Sheets ended up missing the entire 2009 season, despite rumors that he would sign with a contender for the stretch run.

Now Sheets is still without a team and the Brewers are in need of a pitcher to stabilize one of the worst rotations in baseball.

The Brewers seemed open to at least exploring the idea of Sheets returning to Milwaukee, although they have yet to follow up with either him or his agent. Sheets has made no comment since his departure on whether he would ever welcome a return to Milwaukee.

Sheets would be a cheap option for the Brewers if the two could agree on a contract. The best Sheets could hope for after missing an entire season would be a one-year, incentive-laden deal with a base salary likely between $2-3 million.

A low-risk, high-reward pitcher is worth taking a gamble on from the Brewers' point of view. Whether Sheets would take that gamble on the Brewers is a totally different story.

Sheets seemed to become disenchanted with the Brewers and seemed on the verge of signing with the Rangers until his injury situation arose. He spent most of the year rehabbing his injury at a clinic owned and operated by the Rangers. The team also has pitching coach Mike Maddux in their fold to lure Sheets. Maddux coached Sheets in Milwaukee from 2003-2008.

As much as the Brewers need quality pitching, they would be best served to steer clear of Sheets. After a season which saw their entire staff struggle, the team can't pin their hopes on the arm of a pitcher that hasn't pitched an entire season since 2004.

Sheets will find someone to give him a contract for the 2010 season, like the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets could also be in contention as the also are desperate for pitching help.

Ben Sheets gave Brewers' fans many great memories while he played for the team, but fans have just as many memories of games that Sheets missed as games that he played in. Without a guarantee, the Brewers and their fans will be content to acquire a starter in a trade or two—and maybe sign a starter with a better health history in free agency.