In a move to try and bolster their young and inconsistent rotation, the Atlanta Braves have signed right-handed starting pitcher Ben Sheets to a minor-league contract. Sheets will report to the double-A Mississippi Braves and make his first start this Wednesday, July 4th.
Sheets will be 34 years old later this month, and last pitched in the Majors in 2010. At that time he was coming back from surgery in 2009 to repair a flexor tendon in his right elbow. He made 20 starts for Oakland in 2010 before having Tommy John surgery in August of that year. He did not pitch at all in 2011.
Here are some quotes from Braves GM Frank Wren regarding the signing of Sheets:
"You look at him being a guy who, if the progression goes as we hope, that he could join our rotation in the next few weeks," Braves general manager Frank Wren said after watching Sheets throw a bullpen session Sunday morning at Turner Field. "No definitive time, just the next few weeks. What we just saw in the bullpen was very impressive."
Sheets’ agent let the Braves know he was interested a few weeks ago, and Sheets threw Thursday at Georgia Tech in front of officials from the Braves and several other teams.
"He threw a five-inning simulated game at Georgia Tech," said Wren, noting that Sheets’ fastball velocity was 91-92 during the session. "We saw enough that we were very impressed. The velocity was pretty close to what we’ve come to know in the past as Ben Sheets and the quality of breaking stuff – he’s always had a very good curveball and change-up – it was all the more impressive." [...]
Wren said Sheets would make a couple of Double-A starts, "and then we’ll re-evaluate where he is.We don’t think he’s too far off from being able to help us."
This is a great low-risk, high-reward signing by the Braves. Sheets has had ample time to recover from Tommy John, and seeing that he threw five simulated innings with good velocity and feel for his secondary pitches tells me that he's already gone through the first several stages of his comeback, and could truly be ready in a hurry to help out in Atlanta.
When healthy, Sheets was a solid mid-to-top of the rotation starter, who could eat innings and give his team a chance to win just about every time out. He's a four-time All-Star who was entering the prime of his career just as the injuries started to occur.
Assuming all goes according to plan in the minors, Sheets should replace either Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, or Jair Jurrjens in the rotation, and represent a substantial upgrade over their current production. Good move by the Braves, but there's no need for the team to sit on their hands after this move, and I'm sure they won't. The Braves still need an ace, and Zack Greinke is out here and available. Assuming the Braves can sign him to a long-term contract, it's time for them to empty the farm and put him in an Atlanta jersey for years to come.