According to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy and T.R. Sullivan, the Ben Sheets-to-Texas saga has taken a dramatic (and sobering) turn for the worse:
Free agent right-hander Ben Sheets may need surgery to repair the torn flexor tendon in his elbow, and his former employers may be asked to pick up the tab. Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said on Thursday that the team has been in discussions this week with Sheets' agent and officials from Major League Baseball about who would pay for the procedure.
The Texas Rangers and Sheets reached an agreement on a two-year contract late last week and only a physical stood in the way of the deal being completed. But everything changed once it was determined that Sheets had a torn flexor tendon that might require surgery.
CBSSports.com's Scott Miller reported early Thursday afternoon that Sheets was expected to undergo the procedure -- reportedly set to be performed by legendary orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama -- once the dispute over who would foot his medical bills had been resolved. Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery has not been deemed necessary at this point, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
While both Miller and FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal assert that Sheets could conceivably return during the second half of the season (Miller's sources are saying the procedure will sideline Sheets anywhere from four to six months, a prognosis with which Rosenthal appears to concur), one major league source familiar with the standard recovery time for such a procedure -- as quoted by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark -- estimates that he could be incapacitated for approximately 9 to 10 months.
Why the disparity, you ask? According to Rosenthal, multiple doctors believed that Sheets "stood a good chance of getting through the season healthy," but could not definitively conclude that his partially torn right flexor tendon would survive the rigors of a 30-start campaign until he pitched at maximum intensity during the regular season.
The severity of the tear and how well his eventual rehabilitation progresses will ultimately dictate his timetable for recovery; it is, of course, impossible to say with any degree of certainty at this juncture whether he could realistically still pitch in 2009, and that will remain the status quo until Dr. James Andrews performs his own exhaustive medical assessment.
While the Rangers could theoretically still approach Sheets with a heavily incentive-based multi-year deal comprising minimal guaranteed money -- thus entailing less financial risk -- on the belief that he would still be club property when he was ready to pitch again, general manager Jon Daniels affirmed that the organization "wasn't optimistic" with respect to the possibility of a deal being completed after the preliminary agreement between Sheets and the Rangers collapsed late last week.
Such a commitment also might not appeal to Sheets, who could still be positioned to net a lucrative multi-year contract next winter as one of the better arms in a weak free-agent pitching class, and who would also be rid of the Type A free agent status that presumably played at least a minor role in the meteoric depreciation of his market value this off-season.
Although club owner Tom Hicks did authorize the player-specific expansion of payroll for the abortive signing of Sheets, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the 30-year-old right-hander was an exception to the rule, and that Texas possesses little interest in pursuing one of his similarly priced free-agent peers. Beyond the prospective signing of free-agent right-hander Jason Jennings (whom MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan suggests will likely be inked to a non-roster deal by Texas in the near future), it appears that the Rangers will stand their ground going into spring training in Surprise, Arizona next week.