Not that long ago, John Danks' return to the rotation was set to be the big trade deadline addition to the starting rotation. It wasn't the jazziest sales line of all time, but since the alternative was Francisco Liriano, a Danks 2012 return can reside in the realm of tortured White Sox fantasies.
But now the off-season brings part two of this tale, where John Danks is the big off-season addition to the starting rotation. At the very least, he is the enigma that needs to be solved before the White Sox move forward this off-season.
On that end, there's some insight offered from Scott Merkin's most recent look-in on the wounded left-hander.
"All the limitations have been taken off of the southpaw during his rehab work, and a target date of Nov. 1 to start throwing leaves him optimistic to be ready at the start of Spring Training."
Which means that the White Sox will start getting their first serious feedback on Danks' recovery right in time for a hypothetical Game 7 of the World Series. That timing could pretty hairy, but the rest of the article produced more cringing.
Danks described the way his arm felt after his May 19th start in Wrigley Field in very severe terms.
"I felt well enough to pitch that Saturday [May 19], and Sunday I couldn't move my arm," Danks said in a recent interview with MLB.com. "Literally, I tried to go out and play catch at 20 feet and couldn't do it.
"I'd say that was the point. That was my, 'Oh [no]' moment or whatever you want to write."
Which is, only naturally, drastically different than how he described it at the time when he was trying to keep himself in the rotation.
""It was feeling different than I normally would. I'm no doctor, but I told them I was prepared to pitch tomorrow. I still feel like I probably could. Talking to (general manager) Kenny (Williams), Robin and (head athletic trainer) Herm (Schneider), it's better to be safe than sorry. I'll try to get everything completely right and get back up."
Not to impugn Danks specifically, but let this be a reminder for how to weigh future self-assessments from injured players. It's a rare, rare case when these guys aren't willing to do unwise things to be out there.
With that in mind, Danks was steadfast back in May that the injury had nothing to do with his early-season struggles. "It isn't the reason I've stunk to this point," is how he put it.
He's sticking to that story in spirit, but at the same time "explained the injury didn't come about on one pitch in particular against the Cubs," suggesting progressive deterioration--a theory that Don Cooper readily parrots.
"He gets a pass on [his struggles], as far as I'm concerned. I don't know if he was healthy, and my guess is he probably wasn't."
He was missing two miles on his fastball and throwing flat cutters for two months, so an injury is plausible, but Danks getting the ball for nine starts while his shoulder wore out and line drives flew around the park isn't a warming thought either.
If that sounds reckless, the White Sox seem prepared to compensate for it upon Danks return by being "constantly aware of Danks' workload." After all, someone needs to take Chris Sale's place as the focus for all starter health anxiety.
Cooper compares the Danks situation to the recovery of Jake Peavy and Johan Santana which is a) terrifying and b) useful for putting Danks' recovery in the right perspective. At this point in the rehab process, getting him back at all is the goal. He has to prove he can be an effective pitcher again before any of those naive, starry-eyed discussions of ace workload can return.