It took until the penultimate week of January for the Ben Sheets Sweepstakes TM to catch its second wind, but one thing has become ineluctably evident in the last 48 hours -- the Texas Rangers have emerged as the definitive front-runners for a remarkably talented pitcher that no team has yet made a substantive push to acquire.
That may be about to change.
General manager Jon Daniels, ever the cool and calculated roster architect, was quick to downplay the apparent significance of Wednesday evening's widely publicized dinner meeting with Sheets and his agent, Casey Close, describing the sitdown -- the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides since December -- as nothing more than an extension of the club's "continued dialogue" with Sheets's camp and customary "due diligence."
What is clear, however, is that the entirety of the organizational brain trust is now seriously invested in the outcome of the situation, and it is being implied by Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that negotiations have progressed to a point where the (very) rough parameters of a deal are presently being hammered out:
It could be a busy weekend for Hicks, Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels, and an agreement could be reached by early next week. The right deal would be no longer than two years and worth no more than $16 million guaranteed, but it could escalate based on performance incentives.
"If your guarantee doesn’t have to be to the level where you felt like you had too much exposure, and you were able to build in a structure that he would be paid on the level that he pitched to, I think that would be the proper approach," Ryan said Friday.
"When you have a pitcher of Sheets’ caliber and you’re trying to strengthen your pitching, you have to investigate the possibilities if there’s an opportunity."
Team president Nolan Ryan, an instrumental figure in the resolution of the Michael Young debacle, is reportedly at the forefront of the internal charge to acquire Sheets, with Jennifer Floyd Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writing this morning that Ryan was at his "absolute best" on Wednesday evening, laying out his long-range vision for the future of the Rangers' historically beleaguered pitching staff as Sheets "apparently hung on every word."
And though it should obviously be taken with a huge grain of salt, Engel's piece includes this money line: "Sources [are] saying Monday is a possibility for an announcement." Interpret that line however you wish.
All of this comes down as SI.com's Jon Heyman reports that the Mets have tendered an offer to ever-mercurial southpaw Oliver Perez, thought to be worth no less than $30 million over three years. The 27-year-old Mexican remains New York's top priority, while Andy Pettitte, also a free agent and left-handed but almost 10 years his senior, continues to go back and forth with the Yankees, with whom most observers expect Pettitte to ultimately sign.
Sheets to Arlington. Perez to Queens. Pettitte to the Bronx. It almost makes too much sense, doesn't it?
And, by the way, Sheets's ZiPS projection in Texas? According to the esteemed Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory, 12-7 with a 3.62 ERA (126 ERA+), presumably over 150-plus innings. Virtually everything about this potential marriage between Sheets and the Rangers hinges on the state of his health (in fact, Heyman curiously wrote on Friday afternoon that new medical reports had been circulated amongst those teams interested in his services that "may have sparked some renewed interest," whatever that means), but at two guaranteed years and $18 million, that's three-win production (or better) at a two-win price.
In other words, an emphatic slam dunk in every sense -- assuming that the Rangers prove capable of closing the deal.
Stay tuned. And maybe, just maybe, dare to hope.
● Honorees at Friday evening's Sluggers of the West Awards Dinner at Eddie Deen's Ranch in Dallas included Josh Hamilton (Player of the Year), Vicente Padilla (Pitcher of the Year), who was unable to attend due to visa problems, Chris Davis (Rookie of the Year), Derek Holland (Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year), Nelson Cruz (Minor League Player of the Year), Jose Vallejo (Minor League Defender of the Year), Ian Kinsler (Jim Sundberg Community Achievement Award) and Ron Washington (Harold McKinney Good Guy Award).