BASEBALL Sheets the richest in Brewers history

Pitcher, signed for four years, $38.5 million, eager to build a contender.
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- All-Star pitcher Ben Sheets signed a $38.5 million, four-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, the richest deal in team history.
Sheets signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the club in February to avoid salary arbitration, but left open the option of a longer pact. The Brewers haven't had a winning season since 1992, and Sheets said he put off the opportunity to become a free agent because he wants to be part of the team's resurgence.
"You can go somewhere else and maybe win a title or whatever, win a division," Sheets said, "but is it as special as helping build one? Probably not. I can't imagine it would even be close."
Overcoming back surgery
Sheets had back surgery in the off-season, and general manager Doug Melvin wanted to see for himself how the right-hander performed in spring training before opening talks on a bigger deal.
"It is a real happy day in Milwaukee Brewers history to be able to sign Ben Sheets to a four-year contract through the 2008 season," Melvin said. "It's just very difficult to go out and find pitchers and people that have the character of Ben and the ability of Ben Sheets."
Melvin hopes Sheets' new deal shows the organization is committed to winning.
"We have always battled on the field," he said, "and now I hope that clubs recognize that we are going to battle in the front office, too."
264 strikeouts in 2004
Sheets was 12-14 with a 2.70 ERA last season, and his 264 strikeouts were the most among NL right-handers.
The 26-year-old Sheets, who has a 46-54 career record in the major leagues with a 3.92 ERA and 696 strikeouts, was scheduled to pitch Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was an All-Star in 2001 and again last year.
He said it was a special day for him and his family.
"I'm glad to be here. Can you believe these crazy people?" he said. "They want me here for another couple of years. Wow!"
Increase in payroll
The Brewers' new owner, Mark Attanasio, has increased player payroll from a league-low $27.5 million last year to more than $40 million.
"The entire organization -- ownership, management, coaches and players -- is excited about the prospect of building a winning team around Ben, and we know he shares that excitement," Attanasio said in a statement.
Until Friday, the biggest Brewers deal was a $23 million, three-year contract extension Geoff Jenkins signed last year, the team said.
"It makes you feel kind of special that they think you are part of the solution here," Sheets said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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