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Sheets talk may signal change of plans

Sheets talk may signal change of plans

LAS VEGAS -- The Rangers may be softening their stance about getting involved in the free-agent market.

Club president Nolan Ryan said on Tuesday that the Rangers are determined to explore every possibility this winter, and that includes free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets. Ryan said the Rangers did not budget this winter for a big-name free agent but they are not closing the door on that option.

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That's why they wanted to meet with Sheets and his agent, Casey Close, at the Winter Meetings on Monday.

"We felt like if you look at all the factors that might come into play and what our needs are, Ben Sheets is a player we needed to visit with to see where they are and what their expectations are," Ryan said. "From him having a home in Dallas and being from Monroe [La.], you get the feeling that family is big for him. We are a fit in that regard, and it gives us a step up if everything else is equal."

The Rangers still may not have the money to land Sheets. They entered the offseason expecting to have approximately the same $67 million payroll they had in 2008. But they also know that baseball is looking at a slow-moving free-agent market and an uncertain economy that could change the plans of many organizations.

The final decision on any dramatic change in the payroll will have to come from owner Tom Hicks, but Ryan said the Rangers have to investigate every possibility. Hicks has shown financial flexibility in the past on some players, most notably in the Rangers' attempt to sign Barry Zito two years ago.

"It all depends on what happens," Ryan said. "You can't short-change yourself. Did we budget for signing a high-dollar free agent? No. But could we get ourselves in position? Maybe. I'm certainly not making any predictions.

"In doing our due diligence, it's a prudent thing not to eliminate something before you investigate it. If it develops that it could work for you, you look at the overall picture and see if you can make it work."

Ryan said the Rangers came away from Monday's meeting with the feeling that Sheets was truly interested in playing in Texas.

"He asked a lot of questions about our organization, where we are headed, the ballpark and the heat, how we use our starting pitching and bullpen," Ryan said. "He asked a lot of questions that I would ask. I think there's legitimate interest there."

Sheets was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts and 198 1/3 innings for the Brewers this past season before being shut down at the end of the year by a sore right elbow. He has had physical issues all through his career and has been on the disabled list six times in the past eight seasons.

Ryan said the Rangers have done some investigation into Sheets' medical records.

"That's a concern that was discussed," Ryan said. "That would have to be the No. 1 concern, where his health is. Obviously, signing a player of this magnitude, you have to look at the medical reports. But in talking to our people, there weren't any red flags that came up."

Ryan said he expects the Rangers to have further conversations with Sheets and Close.

"We left it for them to get back to us," Ryan said.

The main point for Ryan is that the Rangers are doing everything they can to get better in 2009. They know they are in a rebuilding mode and they are committed to building from within in their young players.

"We're definitely trying to improve the ballclub," Ryan said. "We have every intention of being competitive in '09. We've got a nucleus of young players who we're looking at being in a Rangers uniform for quite a while.

"But we've also told people that we would look at anything. We are open to proposals from anybody. We haven't said X, Y and Z aren't going to be traded. We're not trying to trade anybody, but we are open to proposals. That's the only way to see what's going on. If you put a limit on yourselves, you don't get a view of other peoples' perceptions and how you might get creative."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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