"We have already heard from a number of teams inquiring about Ben's health and availability for 2010," Close wrote. "I will tell you that he has a very good chance to be one of the most impactful free agents, without question."
Close's comments echoed an MLB.com story on Oct. 23
, a few days after Sheets visited his Louisiana high school to become the first St. Amant baseball player with a retired number. A member of Sheets' camp said at that time the right-hander was participating in a flat-ground throwing program and was planning to be "more than ready to go" when the 2010 season begins.
Assuming Sheets, a four-time National League All-Star, is healthy, he could be highly-coveted player on the offseason free-agent pitching market. Sheets nearly signed with the Rangers last winter before concerns about his elbow scuttled the deal, and in February Sheets underwent surgery to fix a torn flexor tendon.
Now Sheets is said to be open to offers from all 30 teams, including the Brewers, despite his somewhat complicated exit from Milwaukee. Questions about his health re-emerged this week when Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told a reporter at the GM Meetings in Chicago that, "nobody has heard from Ben."
But according to the ESPN report, Sheets and his advisers could use Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte as an example of a pitcher returning from a flexor tendon tear. A 32-year-old Pettitte had the surgery in 2004 and bounced back in 2005 to go 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA and averaged 210 innings in the five seasons since. The same doctor -- noted specialist James Andrews -- performed surgery earlier this year on Sheets, who turned 31 in July.
Sheets, who debuted with the Brewers in 2001 and by 2008 was the player with the longest tenure with the club, worked much of the second half of the '08 season with elbow pain and only revealed the torn flexor tendon in October, when he was left off Milwaukee's postseason roster.
At the time, the medical prognosis was that with rest, exercise and rehab Sheets would recover. The team was so comfortable with that diagnosis that it extended a Dec. 2 offer of arbitration to Sheets, who was free agent-eligible for the first time in his career. Had Sheets accepted that offer, he would have been considered a signed player for 2009 at a salary to be determined, almost certainly higher than the $11 million he earned in 2008 when he finished 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts and started the All-Star Game for the National League.
But Sheets declined, opting instead to enter the market. Nearly a year later, he's back.