Rangers cautious in pursuit of Sheets
Free agent's medical history concerning team in need of pitching
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers and free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets look like a perfect match. Texas needs pitching and Sheets needs a place to pitch.A marriage may seem inevitable, but the process is moving slowly and a resolution is not likely to come about anytime soon. The Rangers remain deeply concerned about the medical reports. Sheets had a right flexor tendon injury at the end of last season, and that has scared off a number of teams in their pursuit of a pitcher who otherwise would have been one of the top free agents on the market this offseason. Sheets' agent, Casey Close, is looking for a multi-year contract. The Rangers would prefer just a one-year deal, possibly with an option. The two sides have discussed financial parameters, but there hasn't been an official offer from either side. Close would like to get other teams involved, most notably the two in New York. That may not happen. The Mets are looking for one more starter and appear to be focused on left-hander Oliver Perez. The Yankees, having signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, could use one more starter, but seem more interested in bringing back Andy Pettitte. Both clubs have internal options. New York has already taken one risk on a pitcher with a history of injuries in Burnett, and may not want to double its risk by taking on Sheets. The Dodgers are also looking for starting pitching, but are looking at Randy Wolf and/or Jon Garland. There have been no indications that they have interest in Sheets. Texas is clearly far ahead of any other team in its interest in Sheets. The Rangers have repeatedly said that they don't have much money to spend this winter, but appear to be willing to make an exception for Sheets. Rangers owner Tom Hicks was among those who dined with Sheets and Close on Wednesday night in Dallas. Club president Nolan Ryan is high on Sheets and pitching coach Mike Maddux has been his staunchest advocate. The medical reports force the Rangers to tread cautiously. They are still gathering information. Sheets was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts and 198 1/3 innings for the Brewers last year, but he had a partial tear in his right elbow at the end of the season and did not pitch in the playoffs. He has been on the disabled list five times in the past four years. The Rangers put 14 pitchers on the disabled list in 2008, crushing their chances of being competitive in the American League West.
Texas' need for pitching is acute. Only Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are locked into the 2009 rotation. Matt Harrison has the inside track on a third spot, and Scott Feldman, Dustin Nippert and Brandon McCarthy are the leading candidates for the final two spots, but nothing can be certain on a team that had the highest ERA in the Major Leagues in '08.Eric Hurley's candidacy came to an end when he had right season-ending shoulder surgery on Wednesday. Thomas Diamond could enter the fray if he shows he's healthy at the end of a two-year comeback from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Kason Gabbard and Luis Mendoza were in the Rangers' Opening Day rotation at the beginning of last season, but are more likely to be looked at as relievers in Spring Training. Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz -- the club's top two pitching prospects -- are coming to Spring Training for the first time, but likely need more time in the Minor Leagues. Feliz has made just 10 starts above Class A, and Holland has made four.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.