Chicago Cubs Kicking the Tires on Ben Sheets

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2010

NEW YORK - JULY 15:  National League All-Star starting pitcher Ben Sheets #15 of Milwaukee Brewers looks on during the 79th MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

So far this off-season, there hasn’t been too much going on in Chicago. Carlos Silva joined the team to help bolster the pen, Greg Maddux has become an assistant to Jim Hendry, and the most notable move to date has been the dumping of some garbage (Milton Bradley) while sightseeing in Seattle.

Now, the news around town is the Cubs have their eye on longtime Brewers ace, Ben Sheets.

Sheets missed all of last year after undergoing surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow; an injury that was associated with a myriad of problems that included:

· A trade deal gone bad with the Texas Rangers.

· A situation over who was going to foot the bill.

· A suspicion that Sheets actually tore the tendon late in the 2008 season causing Milwaukee to “rest” him in the postseason.

Now, in 2010, Sheets has been afforded a full year and some change to recover, rest, and heal from the procedure as he is sets his focus on regaining his dominate mound presence.

Sheets has always been among the rising elites in the National League since his introduction, including an overall record of 86-83 with a comfortable 3.72 ERA.

In 2004—arguably Sheets’ best year—Sheets had 264 strikeouts to only 32 walks and gave up a paltry 25 homeruns. Sheets ran with a career best 2.70 ERA, had five complete games under his belt and placed eighth in voting for the Cy-Young award; not to mention being a four-time All-Star.

For the Cubs, though, landing Sheets could prove to be a little difficult, considering Sheets has stuck to his guns commanding a deal worthy of at least $10 million over two years.

This is where the hard part is.

The Cubs broke the bank a while ago, and they are basically running on pennies in a jar, so affording Sheets that kind of money over such a short time is almost impossible, despite the apparent willingness on Sheets’ part to play in Chi-town.

The other problem is the risk the Cubs would be taking regarding Sheets’ health.

Sheets’ laundry list of ailments include, the elbow dilemma, infections, and a series of back injuries, so coughing up that kind of money only to risk having Sheets fall on the DL would be another unwanted headache.

On the upside though, Sheets is not to be taken lightly when he is in fair health.

Sheets is one of the rare pitchers who is just built to throw strikes. His career strikeout to ball ratio of 1,206/313 is sick enough to cause most statisticians to do a double take the first time they glance at such numbers.

But it’s not just the strikeout numbers that are impressive.

Over the past three years—2006, 2007, and 2008—Sheets has given up only 43 home runs, has posted a 1.16 WHIP, and has pitched in 7 complete games—three of them shutouts—so there is no questioning his ability to produce.

So what do the Cubs do, and how can they land Sheets?

Some speculate the Cubs could give him a smaller deal in cost, but lace in a bunch of incentives while others flat out believe the notion of adding Sheets to the roster is as delusional as Hendry’s belief in the Milton Bradley experiment in ’09.  

Too soon?

Still, if there is a way to land Sheets the Cubs pitching would be as formidable as any other team in the Majors barring any unforeseen health related issues.

With Sheets, the roster could look like this:

· Zambrano – Righty

· Sheets – Righty

· Lilly – Lefty

· Dempster – Righty

· Wells – Righty

But there is an expanded view to the starting lineup if you add in the availability Lou Piniella has to mix in two more lefties in Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny.

Add to that the two long men: Carlos Silva (R) and John Grabow (L) with Angel Guzman as a third option as a utility man, and the closing duties being taken over by Carlos Marmol.

I think it’s safe to say that with Sheets possibly in the mix, the Cubs look stacked for 2010, and I haven’t even mentioned the X-factor in Jeff Samardzija.

But again, landing Sheets won’t be easy.

Can the organization find a way to offer a deal that Sheets will agree to? Just how serious are the Cubs? Just how serious is Sheets? Are the Cubs even in a position to absorb another hefty price tag?

These are just some of the questions on the table.

Either way, it’s pretty evident the Cubs look pretty good coming into the 2010 season, but so does a cake without icing.

There is plenty of time to kick the tires on Sheets, and it isn’t as if anyone else has shown a vested interest in the powerful righty, but as the saying goes: “How soon ‘not now’ becomes never.”

In the end, there is wiggle room for the Cubs, and if they can put a worthy deal on the table without breaking the piggy bank, and if Sheets is willing to bend a little, then the whole deal could wind up being the icing on that good looking cake.


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