The Kübler-Ross model, first introduced in the 1969 book "On Death And Dying," explicitly described five distinct stages -- more popularly known today as the "Five Stages of Grief" -- through which people allegedly progress as they attempt to deal with grief and/or tragedy: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
That most informed Texas Rangers fans had already obtained some inkling of the severity of free-agent right-hander Ben Sheets's elbow problems did not necessarily preclude the onset of stages three, four and five when it was finally disclosed on Thursday afternoon that a preliminary agreement between the Rangers and Sheets had been invalidated on the basis of his inability to pass a rigorous team-administered physical examination.
According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the deal -- which was reportedly reached in the middle of last week -- would have spanned two years, guaranteed Sheets in excess of $10 million, and boasted lucrative performance incentives based on his ability to stay healthy and supply Texas with consistent major league innings over the life of the contract. The completion of the deal ultimately hinged on the results of an MRI, however, which confirmed that a tear was still present in his right flexor tendon (elbow):
"The lines of communication remain open, but I'm not expecting a deal of any kind at this time," [general manager] Jon Daniels said. "We have strong interest in Ben under the right circumstances. But some things are out of your control."
[...] "We would have some interest in the right situation," Daniels said. "Some of that is going to revolve around Ben's medical situation, and that’s not for me to comment on."
Clearly, the overriding issue is that both Sheets and agent Casey Close incorrectly anticipated that the muscle tear would completely heal over the off-season with the prerequisite amount of rest and rehabilitation; that best-case scenario failed to transpire, however, and because Sheets declined the Brewers' offer of salary arbitration back on December 8th, the 30-year-old fireballer is now unemployed with an elbow that is effectively a ticking time bomb until his impending surgical procedure is completed.
It's an indubitably demoralizing turn of events for all parties involved: Milwaukee was comfortably positioned to recoup a pair of compensatory draft picks in exchange for Sheets's departure (via his Type A free agent status), Close was set to bank a healthy commission, and Texas was on the brink of acquiring a hurler who, in a healthy state, might well have been the club's best starting pitcher since Kevin Brown. Instead of a raucous celebration, however, every person -- including each member of the Rangers' understandably bewildered fan base -- with a stake in the ultimate outcome of these negotiations is now left to puzzle over the age-old question of "What in the hell just happened?"
● A short time after the Sheets story first broke on Thursday afternoon, I solicited the insight of Chris Neault, a licensed sports physical therapist, intermittent contributor to The Hardball Times' fantasy baseball coverage and friend of Baseball Time in Arlington; fortunately, Chris was kind enough to oblige:
The damage in [Sheets's] elbow is serious enough to warrant surgical repair, and it will require prolonged immobilization and vigorous rehabilitation, followed by strict adherence to a lengthy throwing/pitching program. The first three months is mostly range of motion [exercises] and light strengthening, followed by an increase in his strengthening program thereafter. I would not count on seeing him again in 2009, though if he did manage [to return], it would probably not be before August. Anything is possible I suppose.
I think he can become an effective major league pitcher again, as other pitchers have bounced back from this type of surgery (Andy Pettitte, Mike Hampton, Billy Wagner, etc.). Tom Glavine is also on the mend from a similar procedure. I think the bigger question is: how long can he be effective? We need to understand that this is a guy who has had a multitude of pitching shoulder/arm problems, and that the likelihood of breaking down again is probably going to be high -- not to mention that Jason Jennings had this surgery and hasn't done that well with it.
Briefly re-emphasizing something I noted on Thursday afternoon: the severity of the flexor tendon tear and the swiftness -- and success -- of his rehabilitation will ultimately dictate his timetable for recovery. Speculating just how long Sheets will be sidelined is a superficially intriguing exercise for fans and media pundits alike, but it's rendered completely immaterial the moment Dr. James Andrews indicates whether the procedure went as expected and provides the juicy details.
● According to the initial collaborative article published by MLB.com's Adam McCalvy and T.R. Sullivan, the Brewers dispatched assistant athletic trainer Dan Wright to Louisiana at one point to examine Sheets -- which did not result in the sounding of any warning sirens -- and felt comfortable enough with the earlier optimistic prognosis on Sheets's elbow to extend an offer of salary arbitration on December 2nd, which was unilaterally rejected less than a week later.
Did Close realize the extent of his client's injury at that point? Did Sheets realize it? Probably not. But given that Close recently equipped interested suitors with "updated medical information" that presumably attempted to paint a brighter medical picture and assuage the league-wide apprehension over the state of his elbow (in spite of the fact that one would logically assume that updated medical information would make it all the more evident that the flexor tendon tear was not healing as expected), one wonders if the Sheets camp was completely upfront with the Rangers throughout the process -- and, for that matter, if any sort of attempt was made to conceal the seriousness of Sheets's medical situation.
● Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram suggests this morning that it might be prudent of Sheets to accept a multi-year deal from the Rangers -- perhaps structurally similar to the multi-year deal Jon Lieber obtained from the Yankees six years ago, which the ever-prescient Jamey Newberg discussed a matter of hours before the Sheets story broke -- and utilize the organization's facilities as he begins the laborious task of rehabilitation. A nice thought, but I must openly question the level of motivation on both sides to reach yet another agreement in light of the new set of obstacles now present.
If the prognosis after the impending surgical procedure is optimistic, what would compel Sheets to accept an incentive-based multi-year deal with little guaranteed money when (a) he could return to the free-agent market in a matter of months as one of the best pitchers in a weak 2009-2010 free-agent pitching class and (b) Texas is such an inherently difficult place to attempt to rehabilitate your value as a starting pitcher? Conversely, if the post-operative prognosis is grim, why would the Rangers want to willingly sacrifice a relatively valuable second-round pick to the Brewers if Sheets isn't likely to regain his former effectiveness in a reasonable timeframe?
Assuming that (a) Sheets withholds from signing until after the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft (which begins on June 9th), (b) that the other seven outstanding Type A and Type B free agents -- a group which comprises Paul Byrd, Orlando Cabrera, Juan Cruz, Mark Grudzielanek, Orlando Hudson, Manny Ramirez and Dennys Reyes -- all come to terms with different teams and (c) that the Mariners' 2008 first-round pick, Joshua Fields, fails to sign before the draft, the Rangers' top three picks should be at No. 13, No. 42 (compensation for Milton Bradley's defection to the Cubs) and No. 58, the last of which is the second-round pick that would be forfeited if the club opts to sign Sheets.
Think it's still a no-brainer that Texas will relinquish that pick in exchange for what basically amounts to damaged goods? Think again.
Perhaps the most infuriating component of this abortive signing is that the Rangers, by all indications, did absolutely everything that could reasonably be expected of them to make it happen. The medical records were scrutinized to the highest degree, the determination was correctly made that a healthy Sheets would measurably improve the organization's big league product over the next several seasons, the authorization of the player-specific expansion in payroll required to enable the signing was made by club owner Tom Hicks, the preliminary agreement was struck, and the exhaustive physical upon which the entire deal was contingent was conducted -- all while maintaining the low-key and unassuming stance with regard to the free-agent market that this front-office regime has instilled not by accidence but by design.
And yet at the end of the day, it's simply didn't work out as everybody had so hopefully envisioned. Them's the breaks, I suppose.
Quick Hits: Jon Daniels told ESPN.com on Thursday that the Rangers had previously contemplated the possibility of signing free-agent outfielder Manny Ramirez, but have since dismissed the idea; Ramirez recently rejected the Dodgers' one-year, $25 million offer ... Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Mets, Nationals, Rangers, and Yankees had held conversations with the representatives of free-agent first baseman Kevin Millar, but the 37-year-old veteran has elected to join the Blue Jays on a minor league deal ... According to SI.com's Jon Heyman, newly re-signed southpaw Eddie Guardado can obtain different bonus payouts depending on what team he's traded to ... Boston signed free-agent outfielder Brad Wilkerson to a minor league deal ... Baseball Time in Arlington is now listed on Facebook and Twitter.