Mets may pursue Sheets after Piñeiro goes to Angels

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Ben Sheets pitches to Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Ben Sheets pitches to the Washington Nationals in the first inning. (August 9, 2008) Photo Credit: AP

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For the second time in as many days, the Mets saw a top target spurn them for the West Coast. As first reported by Newsday, righthander Joel Piñeiro agreed to sign with the Angels for a two-year, $16-million contract.

With Piñeiro off the board, the Mets will likely increase their pursuit of free-agent righthander Ben Sheets, who impressed onlookers in a throwing session Tuesday.

Since John Lackey signed with the Red Sox back in December, the Mets liked Piñeiro best of all the available starting pitchers. Yet they didn’t jump at an asking price that initially stood at four years and $40 million.

It’s not clear what the Mets’ final offer to Piñeiro was, but it’s believed that the length was two years. On Tuesday, catcher Bengie Molina passed up more guaranteed money from the Mets to return to the Giants.

With Doug Davis signing a one-year deal to return to Milwaukee, the Mets’ options to upgrade their starting rotation are dropping by the wayside. Sheets stands out because of his upside. When healthy, he is one of the best power pitchers in the game. He would be a welcome addition, especially to a team like the Mets that doesn’t have great defense.

Yet Sheets missed all of 2009 after undergoing right elbow surgery, and the Mets had been gun-shy because of their myriad injury problems last season. Sheets’ strong performance Tuesday appears to have assuaged some of those concerns.

The Cubs, Rangers, Mariners and Cardinals also have been reported as interested in signing Sheets, who is expected to get around the $7.5 million that the oft-injured Rich Harden received from Texas.

Jon Garland, who offers a stronger health history than Sheets’ but nowhere as high an upside, has not been prominent on the Mets’ radar screen, a person familiar with the team’s thinking said. The Mets have been in touch with lower-cost options like free agents John Smoltz and Chien-Ming Wang, both of whom are well-known in the New York area.

Given the money they saved in not signing Molina, the Mets could have room in their budget for both Sheets and a lower-end reclamation project like Smoltz (who could be a reliever) or Wang.

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