Much like the rumor that the Chicago Cubs are pursuing starting pitcher Joel Piniero (Buster Olney even had the Cubs as the “leader” at one point), there is a rumor involving the Cubs and a starting pitcher making the rounds that I’d like to be true, but almost certainly isn’t. Or, more precisely, the rumor isn’t quite as certain as it sounds.
Various reports (most of which are originating with ESPN) indicate that the Cubs have been talking to free agent pitcher Ben Sheets. You’ll remember Sheets from his time with the Milwaukee Brewers; time alternately spent schooling fools and rehabbing something or other.
2009 was a completely lost season to Sheets as he could not find a team willing to pay him to not pitch (everyone knew his elbow was about to ess-splode), so he had surgery and rehabbed. He now says he’s back and ready to go. Sounds like a great guy to sign to a one-cheap-year-plus-bigger-money-option-year deal, no? Well, yeah. Except he wants his big money now.
Sheets is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal at more than $10 million per year. Yo. Thing is, if teams knew for sure that Sheets was healthy, he’d be worth that amount easy. From 2004 to 2008, Sheets was, pretty much, consistently awesome. His ERA for that period was in the low 3s, and he struck out nearly a batter per inning. But, naturally, he was not healthy. In that time, he exceeded 200 innings just once (back in 2004), and failed to get to 150 innings three times.
So what is a team who is interested in Sheets to do? Surely they can’t risk a multi-year, big money deal, right? I suppose the team could do it if they build in a bunch of carve-outs a la Magglio Ordonez (the second/third years are technically options that kick in as long as Sheets’ shoulder or elbow do not cause him to miss significant time in the first year). Or the team could do it if they had money to throw around.
But outside of those two possibilities, Sheets is going to have to settle for a one-year deal to prove himself. There’s a reason that Rich Harden could get only a one-year deal from the Rangers – he was unbelievably talented (probably moreso than Sheets), but nobody trusted his health. So it is with Sheets, who should probably be looking to Harden’s one-year, incentive-laden deal as his model. Harden will get $6.5 million in 2010, with a possibility of another $2.5 million in incentives if he’s healthy. Then, Harden and the Rangers hold a mutual option for $11.5 million in 2011.
If Sheets resigns himself to accepting that kind of deal, perhaps the Cubs can get involved. But even still, the Cubs have approximately $6 to 7 million left to spend, and still have a gaping hole in center field (and in the bullpen, if you believe Jim Hendry). Backloading is exactly an option when you’re talking about a one-year deal.
That’s why I can only assume that, if the Cubs are “talking” to Ben Sheets, they’re merely talking to him about leaving the NL Central for good.