The A's 32-year-old right-hander, who learned he will miss the remainder of the season Wednesday with a torn flexor tendon in his already surgically-repaired right elbow, admitted Thursday he was rather surprised by the findings.
"When they diagnosed me, I was actually really shocked, to tell you the truth," said Sheets, speaking to reporters via phone for the first time since the news was announced. "I didn't have the same type of pain that I had two years ago. I just didn't quite feel it in the same area, and I thought it was to a lesser degree. I thought maybe it might be just a small strain in the forearm or something. I really didn't feel it on any pitch or anything, so I don't know if it was just over time, or what happened with it."
Sheets will be a free agent at the end of the year, so he could potentially choose to elect retirement rather than face another procedure and the process of finding a team. But his innate competitiveness and genuine love for the game has the four-time All-Star strongly considering another surgery.
"I'm just trying to step back from it," he said. "At the end of the day, I'll probably have the surgery sooner than later, for the sheer fact that it gives you opportunities and options later on no matter what you decide. The way it looks this time, for everyday life, it's a good idea."
Renowned orthopedist James Andrews performed the first flexor tendon surgery in February of 2009, and Sheets said -- if he goes through with it again -- Andrews or Rangers orthopedist Keith Meister will orchestrate the procedure, which would again require around a year's worth of recovery time.
"We'll see," Sheets said. "I'm 32 and obviously getting toward the back end of my career. I felt OK at times this year, and it was like I was making strides. But if I were to come back, I'd have to feel a lot better than I did. With the first one, I missed a year, from February to January. I would probably be looking at the back end of next year."
Without it, though, he realizes he'd be facing retirement.
"If I don't get surgery, my career's over," Sheets said. "I think that would be the end. I don't think I have that option."
The A's took a gamble on Sheets with a one-year contract worth $10 million plus incentives, the latter part of the agreement no longer relevant given his shortened season. It represented the largest one-year deal the A's have ever awarded a free agent they signed from outside their organization, and Sheets hoped to uphold the back end of his deal, but he admitted Thursday his elbow "never really felt great" during his 20 starts.
"I guess it was wishful thinking," he said, "but I always thought it would come around. There were times during the year where I thought my stuff was turning the corner, so I thought my elbow would follow suit. And that step just never happened."
Sheets was also slightly fooled by his ability to go about everyday activities with a sense of normalcy -- something he couldn't do the last time around.
"Two years ago when I had this happen, I couldn't do anything," he said. "I couldn't open a door, I couldn't brush my teeth, I couldn't brush my hair. I just couldn't do much. It was always hurting. This time, nothing hurt. It was weird, because when I walked into the trainer's office after the Red Sox game [July 19], it wasn't so much that my elbow hurt but that my arm was swollen. When it was looked at initially, I was told, 'Ben, that's not good.'
"I had been contemplating all those smaller things it could be. I didn't really feel I had re-tore the flexor. My arm just didn't hold up at the end of the day. The procedure was done correctly and the rehab, we took our time. It just wouldn't hold up on me."
The rehab part of it, which Sheets deemed "more boring than anything," isn't scaring away the veteran pitcher. For now, though, he's going to take time to enjoy the company of his green and gold teammates.
"Y'all will see me back," he said. "I'll be back most of the year with them. I think we were good for each other. They were good for me, and I was good for them. It's such a great clubhouse. Those guys go about their business every day, and there are a lot of good quality people there, a lot of good quality players. That's why I want to be back to be a part of it."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.