Yesterday, MLB Trade Rumors came out with a report that should be of some interest to Brewers fans: Former Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets, who has been out of baseball since 2010, is planning on making a comeback. According to MLBTR, Sheets threw for scouts (with representatives of the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, and Angels in attendance) yesterday in Louisiana. Sheets has more or less been retired since his 2010 stint with the Athletics ended in him tearing his flexor (elbow) tendon for the second time, requiring three different procedures, including a Tommy John surgery.
Between his big-league debut in 2001 and the injury that ended his career with the Brewers in 2008, Sheets averaged 180 innings per year, in spite of recurring shoulder problems that sidelined him for parts of several different seasons. Over that time, he posted an ERA of 3.79 and a FIP of 3.65. He made four All-Star teams, and was the starting pitcher for the NL in 2008. In 2004, he set a Brewers record with 18 strikeouts in a game.
For most of his time in Milwaukee, Sheets was one of the few bright spots on a club that didn’t have much else going for it, but his final season in 2008 was arguably his best. For the first half of the season, Sheets carried the team, pitching 123 innings before the All-Star break and allowing only 40 runs in that span. However, as the season progressed, his arm began to falter, and he pitched through pain in an effort to push Milwaukee into their first playoff appearance in 25 years. His elbow eventually gave way, requiring surgery and denying him the chance to pitch in the playoffs. About 18 months later, he signed a 1 year deal with the Oakland A’s, and threw 119.1 innings before re-injuring his flexor tendon.
According to the article, Sheets said he didn’t want to attempt a comeback unless he felt 100%, and was hoping to help a contender down the stretch. Also, the fact that Sheets needs one more year of service time (h/t to @Djberes84 and @JaymesL) to qualify for MLB’s pension plan probably is a factor as well. However, it’s unclear exactly what “100%” means in this case: Sheets was a below-average pitcher in 2010, and had lost a few MPH on his fastball. That was two years and three surgeries ago. However, if rest was what Sheets really needed, and he is as good as he says he feels, he could be a very interesting addition for a contending club, particularly as a reliever.
Unfortunately, the Brewers aren’t exactly a “contending club” right now, and pitching is probably not their most pressing need. I’d love to see Sheets contribute to some team’s playoff run, especially after what happened in 2008 – ideally, however, that team would not play in the NL Central. A lot of people have probably forgotten about Sheets by now, but it’s worth remembering just how much he contributed to the Brewers’ success in the 2000s. Here’s hoping he can do it again.