Jim Hendry likes reclamation projects and there is one pitcher on the free agent market that could make a difference for the Cubs next season … Ben Sheets.
The former Milwaukee Brewers’ ace is one of the best in the league when healthy. Sheets has not pitched since September of 2008. He missed all of last season with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow and reportedly is ready to pitch again in Twenty-Ten.
Rumors have suggested the Cubs are interested in Ben Sheets and have talked to his representatives. With Ted Lilly out for at least the first month of the season, coupled with the other concerns the Cubs have in their rotation, taking a gamble on Ben Sheets might be one of the best moves Jim Hendry could make this off-season. The Cubs will begin camp in Mesa with plenty of depth, and questionable quality, to compete for spots in the starting rotation. If healthy Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster will anchor the staff to start the year followed by Randy Wells.
Randy Wells had a solid rookie season and has earned a spot in the rotation. Not to take anything away from what Wells accomplished but he should be slotted as the Cubs’ fourth starter … if not fifth. Wells should be able to succeed in the backend of the Cubs’ rotation based on early projections.
Bill James is projecting a 10-10 record for Wells in 2010 with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in 30 starts.
With Randy Wells as the Cubs’ fourth starter that would leave Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Mike Parisi and Carlos Silva to compete for the fifth spot until Ted Lilly returns. Parisi is a long shot at best to make the Cubs roster and Samardzija has one more option left. Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny are out of options.
Gorzelanny should end up as the Cubs’ fifth starter to begin the season with Marshall serving as the second lefty in the pen behind John Grabow. The Cubs will have to make a decision on Carlos Silva if everyone makes it through Spring Training healthy.
Without Ted Lilly the Cubs rotation lacks quality and this is where signing Ben Sheets could be beneficial.
Reportedly Sheets is not looking to give any discounts to his new team. The numbers that have been bantered around range from $9 million to $12 million … despite the fact he has not pitched in a big league game for over a year.
Jeff Passan from Yahoo Sports recently looked at several free agents still on the open market. Passan made predictions on how much each free agent would sign for as well as the length of the contract.
Passan projected a one-year deal worth $7 million for Ben Sheets. He explained that Sheets should not expect to sign an eight-figure contract unless “half of it” is incentive laden.
The Cubs let Rich Harden walk without offering arbitration because they were afraid he would accept a one-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $10 million … and they could not afford it. Harden signed an incentive laden one-year contract with the Rangers that included a mutual option for 2011. Harden’s base for 2010 is $6.5 and he can earn an additional $500,000 for reaching 155, 165, 175, 185 and 195 innings pitched … so if Harden pitches 195 innings for the Rangers he can earn an additional $2.5 million.
When comparing to the contract Harden signed, the number Jeff Passan projected is a realistic amount to pay for a pitcher with Sheets’ talent. Plus he could put himself in line for a huge payday next winter if he shows he is healthy for a full season.
Ben Sheets was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 31 starts (most starts since 2004) for the Brewers in 2008. Sheets was one of the reasons the Brewers remained on the Cubs’ heels all season and his injury is also one of the reasons the Brewers faded down the stretch.
Fangraphs pointed out “it would be irresponsible of any team to expect more than 150 innings” out of Ben Sheets in 2010 (for the record, Rich Harden completed 141 innings for the Cubs last season). But if Ben Sheets could pickup the starts missed by Ted Lilly in April (and possibly May) and remain healthy in the second half it would certainly be worth the risk.
If Ted Lilly returns as planned by May and Ben Sheets returns to form, along with Carlos Zambrano , Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells, the Cubs could end up with one of the better rotations in the National League.
There are a lot of ifs when it comes to Ben Sheets. Signing Sheets would obviously be a big gamble … but at the right price, a gamble that could payoff in a big way for the Chicago Cubs.