Tagged: Gary Sheffield

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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How quickly a player’s value can change. Brandon Inge could
have been had for a song during spring training. The Tigers would have taken a
small amount of talent from any team willing to pick up the bulk of Inge’s
contract for 2009. Just a few weeks later, the Tigers are glad that nobody took
a flyer on their starting third baseman. Through Sunday’s games, Inge has hit
seven home runs and is making an early argument for a berth on the American
League All-Star team, especially with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. He’s
also played a stellar level of defense at third base, which is no surprise to some
scouts who consider him capable of winning a Gold Glove…

 

The Royals made a surprising move this weekend when they
designated third-string catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena is a rare
breed in 2009–a backup catcher who can actually hit and carries more than a
modicum of power. He also brings versatility to the table, with his ability to
fill in at third, first, and the outfield corners. Expect the Royals to find a
taker in a trade for Pena. If not, he won’t last long on the waiver wire. There
are at least a dozen major league teams who could use help behind the plate

 

The Yankees just cannot seem to avoid injuries. For the
third straight year, the Bombers have been assaulted by a wave of physical
setbacks to start the season. They have five players slated to be part of their
25-man roster currently on the disabled list. The growing list includes set-up
reliever Brian Bruney (elbow), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hip), and default third
baseman Cody Ransom (torn quad), all of whom have hit the DL during the
Yankees’ disastrous weekend venture to Boston…

 

Speaking of waves of injuries, I thought the A’s would be a
factor in the AL West, but the disabled just isn’t cooperating. Staff ace
Justin Duchscherer remains on the 15-day DL with an elbow that underwent
arthroscopic surgery and won’t be able to return until the middle of May at the
earliest.  The A’s also learned this week
that their No. 1 set-up reliever, Joey Devine, will likely be lost for the
season because of an elbow injury. With Duchscherer and Devine, the A’s would
have made a run for the Western Division with the Angels, who have a ravaged
pitching staff of their own, but without at least one of the “Double D’s,”
Billy Beane may have to conduct another firesale this July…

 

Jeff Francouer has promised repeatedly that he’ll be a new
player in 2009, but we’re still seeing the same strangling level of impatience
at the plate. Through Sunday’s games, Francouer has drawn only three walks in
18 games, which is palatable if you’re a Kirby Puckett type of player, but unacceptable
if you’re not hitting for power and not bringing Gold Glove fielding to right
field. Unfortunately, the Braves are strapped for outfielders. They’ve already
made top prospect Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder and just had to place
the disappointing Garret Anderson on the disabled list…

 

On paper, the signing of Milton Bradley made tons of sense
for the Cubs. They need the kind of left-handed bat that the switch-hitting Bradley
can provide. But Bradley has started out miserably at the plate (one hit in 23
at-bats), has already suffered his first injury, and won’t play again until Lou
Piniella deems him 100 per cent healthy. In the meantime, the Cubs will
continue to play with 24 men. Observers in Chicago are also wondering when Milton and
Sweet Lou will have their first blow-up. Both men have explosive tempers that
tend to erupt when things go badly on the playing field. Watch out in the Windy City…

 

Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did during the 2004
postseason, when he practically carried the Astros to their first berth in the
World Series. By flattening out an already level swing, Beltran has been able
to hit National League pitching at a .406 clip. Beltran won’t hit .400 for the
entire season, but his speed, patience, and ability to switch-hit make him a
contender for his first batting title. I just hope that Beltran doesn’t wear
himself out trying to catch everything in an outfield that will feature Daniel “Bull
in a China Shop” Murphy all too regularly and Gary Sheffield on occasion… Sheffield’s
presence on the roster continues to surprise many of the New York beat writers. With Sheffield in town, Fernando Tatis’ role has been reduced
to almost nothing, while Ryan Church remains a platoon player in the eyes of
Jerry Manuel. Sheffield started Friday night’s game against Washington’s Scott Olsen, the first time the
Mets had faced a left-handed starter all season…

 

Finally, a postscript to Hank Aaron’s visit to the Hall of
Fame on Saturday. In filling out all of the artifacts contained in the new
Aaron exhibit, the former Braves legend has donated more than 50 pieces of
memorabilia to the Hall of Fame and Museum. The large supply of Aaron artifacts
include not only the requisite share of milestone bats, balls and gloves, and
his entire uniform from home run No. 715, but also several bricks and a porch
post from Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile, Alabama. Those surviving pieces
from Aaron’s youth serve as yet another reminder of how “The Hammer” came from
modest beginnings, overcoming a lack of money and a preponderance of racism on
his way to one of the greatest careers in the game’s history. Kudos to Hall of
Fame curators Erik Strohl and Mary Quinn for a job well done in constructing
such an extensive exhibit on Aaron, now on permanent display on the Museum’s
third floor.

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Sheffield to Shea–Make That Citi Field

Like most of the baseball world, I was surprised to hear
that Gary Sheffield had landed with the Mets–and not the rumored destinations
in Philadelphia, Cincinnati,
or Tampa Bay. On the one hand, Sheffield
potentially addresses a Mets need (right-handed power) that has existed ever
since Moises Alou was placed on the disabled list early in 2008. But is Sheffield at the age of 40 the right answer to the problem? That is the issue that remains highly
debatable on the eve of Opening Day 2009.

 

Sheffield’s bat speed has slowed
considerably over the last two seasons. His chronic shoulder problem–he
allegedly can’t lift his right arm fully over his head–has only exacerbated his
decline, while rendering him mostly a designated hitter in Detroit. The Tigers didn’t think that Sheffield could play the outfield anymore; the Mets
obviously disagree since they have no DH slot and no vacancy at first base,
where Carlos Delgado is entrenched for at least one more season.

 

What role do the Mets have planned for Sheffield?
To be honest, I’m not sure. The Mets have already made a rightful commitment to
hitting stuff Daniel Murphy in left field, which leaves only right field as a
current option. Sheffield wants to play every
day, but the Mets already have Ryan Church, a far superior defensive player,
available to play against right-handers. Will Sheffield
be satisfied with a platoon arrangement? And if he is, will his achy shoulder
allow him to play right field even two or three times a week?  

 

Signing Sheffield also
creates roster problems. The Mets will now have to cut one additional outfielder to make room for the ex-Tiger, Yankee, and Dodger. The odd man out could be
off-season pickup Jeremy Reed. The ex-Mariner is nothing special as a fifth
outfielder, but he represents the only true backup to Carlos Beltran in center
field. If something happens to Beltran, the Mets will have to turn to Church, a
fine fielding right fielder who is stretched as a center fielder.

 

On the surface, the signing of Sheffield
creates more problems than it fixes. So why did the Mets take the plunge on
Sheffield after passing on all other right-handed hitting options this winter?
Well, there is a theory making the rounds. The Mets signed Sheffield
not because they really wanted him, but because they wanted to keep him away
from the rival Phillies, who need a righty bat as badly as the Mets. The more I
think about it, the more I’m beginning to believe that is the real reason why Sheffield
will be part of the inaugural season at CitiField.

Wandering Through The Waiver Wire

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The final week of spring training has brought us a wave of
last-minute roster cuts. Several brand name players have drawn their releases, including outfielders Gary Sheffield and Wily Mo Pena,
outfielder-first baseman Frank Catalanotto, third basemen Dallas McPherson and
Mike Lamb, catcher Paul Bako, and right-hander Tony Armas. Some of these
veterans will find work quickly, while others have played their final games as
major leaguers.

 

If you’re a team looking for a right-handed hitting
outfielder with power, you’re swimming in good luck. Teams will have a choice
of the 40-year-old Sheffield, he of the
borderline Hall of Fame career and the 27-year old Pena, he of the enormously
untapped potential. Sheffield has already
drawn interest from three teams: the Reds, the Phillies, and the Rays. Cincinnati and Philadelphia
need right-handed power, but also face the very real problem of finding a fit
for Sheffield in the league that has no DH.
Sheffield’s chronic shoulder trouble will prevent him from playing the outfield
every day, and first base is an unlikely landing spot because of the presence
of Joey Votto and Ryan Howard in Cincinnati and Philadelphia,
respectively. Sheffield would also pose a problem for the Reds; he could take
away playing time from Chris Dickerson, who has impressed Dusty Baker in left
field this spring. So what about Tampa
Bay? Sheffield is from Tampa, so he’d probably
welcome such a change of venue. He could platoon with Gabe Gross in right
field, or see some time at DH, with Pat Burrell taking turns with him in the
outfield.

 

Pena represents the better long-term investment. Though he’s
a brutal defensive outfielder who’s prone to long slumps filled with strikeouts,
he still retains the 35-home run potential that once intrigued the Yankees, Reds,
Red Sox, and Nationals. If some team were willing to invest 500 at-bats in Pena,
the benefit could be a slugging percentage over .500. So who needs outfield
help badly enough to take a chance on Pena? The Braves, Pirates, and Giants,
three teams lacking in stellar corner outfielders, all come to mind.

 

In terms of untapped power potential, McPherson comes close
to matching Pena. The ex-Angel and Marlin can play a passable third base,
though he’s probably more suited to first base. Like Pena, he will strike out a
ton, but a platoon arrangement would cut down on his exposure to left-handers.
McPherson would make a modicum of sense for the Astros, who could platoon him
at third base with the recently acquired Jeff Keppinger.

 

Catalanotto may have a tough time finding work because of
his age (34) and his shrinking versatility. Five years ago, Cat could play
second or third base, but he’s strictly a first baseman and corner outfielder these
days. Without much power or speed to fall back on, Catalanotto will have to
find a team that badly needs pinch-hitting help. Maybe the Mets will bite–but
only if they swallow Marlon Anderson’s
pricey contract first.

 

That leaves us with Bako, Lamb, and Armas. The industrial
shortage of catching depth will help Bako’s cause; he could find work with the
Tigers as a backup to Gerald Laird, or with the A’s as the No. 2 man to Kurt
Suzuki. Lamb’s complete loss of power in 2008 will make him hard to employ,
even in a climate where third basemen should have a marketplace. And with
regard to Armas, the perennial need for pitching will help his chances, but I
have to wonder which team will be willing to see past his never-ending
succession of injuries.

Releasing Sheffield, Remembering Franks

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“I didn’t see that coming.” Isn’t that what someone said in
a recent commercial for beer, or pizza, or chicken wings? Well, that’s what a
lot of us are saying after hearing that the Tigers had released Gary Sheffield.
The severing of a brand name usually carries some degree of shock, and it will
carry a cost for the Tigers, who still have to pay the $12 million salary due Sheffield in 2009.

 

The Tigers must think that Sheffield
40, is completely cooked to swallow that sizeable sum of money. An increasing
frequency of injuries along with a substantial loss of bat speed convinced the
Tigers that Sheffield would have been more of
a hindrance than a help. With Sheffield gone, the Tigers can feel more
comfortable in giving the majority of their DH at-bats to Marcus Thames, while
also sliding Thames into an outfield rotation
that features everyman Carlos Guillen in left, super stud Curtis Granderson in
center, and political lightning rod Magglio Ordonez in right.

 

I had always thought that Sheffield
would age gracefully because of his incredible bat speed, which was arguably
the fastest in the game at its peak. Even with some loss of bat speed, I
figured that Sheffield would retain enough to
remain a forceful hitter into his early forties. Unfortunately, Sheffield lost so much quickness in his wrists and hands
over the last year that it rendered him merely mortal at the plate. The lack of
bat speed became plainly evident this spring, as Sheffield
wallowed with an average under .200.

 

Is Sheffield done? The
Tigers obviously think so, but the odds are likely that at least one of the 29
other teams will take a flier on his right-handed power. The world champion
Phillies, who remain vulnerable to left-handed pitching, have already made
contact with Sheffield’s agent. Sheffield might fit the Phils as a platoon left fielder
(where he would share time with Raul Ibanez) and occasional first baseman
(where he could spot Ryan Howard against the occasional southpaw).  

 

In regards to Sheffield’s
milestone and home run issues, they need to be relegated to the back burner of
the stove. Outside of Sheffield’s most devoted
fans, no one really cares that he remains one short of the 500-home run club. (No
other milestone has lost more luster in recent seasons.) The Tigers obviously
didn’t care, either, knowing that no additional fans would show up to Comerica Park
to watch Sheffield pursue history.
Furthermore, writers need to stop referring to Sheffield
as a future Hall of Famer. He was always going to be a borderline case because
of his career-long crankiness and shoot-first-think-later approach to the
spoken word. Because of his association with the BALCO scandal, Sheffield now has about as much chance of winning 75 per
cent of the writers’ vote as Albert Belle does…

 

 

One of the most underrated managers in the history of the
expansion era died on

Monday. Herman Franks, the major leagues’ oldest living
ex-manager, passed away at the age of 95. At first glance, Franks’ managerial mark with the Giants and the Cubs might look pedestrian. In seven seasons, he
failed to take any of his teams to the postseason. With the lack of postseason glory, his record pales in comparison to contemporaries like Walter Alston, Dick Williams, and even Ralph Houk. That’s the cursory look, and
as usual, it tells us little about the man’s true accomplishments. So let’s
look deeper. In those seven seasons, Franks’ teams never finished worse than
four games below .500. And his teams always contended, never concluding a
season worse than five games behind the division or league leader.

 

In the late 1960s, Franks guided the Giants to three
second-place finishes. Unfortunately, the National League was stacked at the
time, with powerhouse clubs in place in Los Angeles
and St. Louis,
and the Pirates posing a threat as intermittent contenders. If only the league
had been split into two divisions prior to 1969, Franks likely would have
pushed one or more of his Giants teams into postseason play.

 

Franks, however, did his most impressive work a decade later
with the Cubs, where he lacked the talent of the Mays-McCovey-Marichal Giants.
In 1977, Franks led Chicago
to a record of 81-81, remarkable for a club that featured four of five starting
pitchers with ERAs of over 4.00. The Cubs’ lineup also had its share of holes, with
Jose Cardenal missing a ton of games in the outfield, and mediocrities like
George Mitterwald and the “original” Steve Ontiveros claiming regular playing
time at catcher and third base, respectively. Two years later, Franks did
similar wonders with a band of misfits, coaxing a career year out of Dave
Kingman and using an innovative approach with Bruce Sutter. Realizing that the
Hall of Famer’s right arm had come up lame the previous two summers, Franks
began to use Sutter almost exclusively in games in which the Cubs held the
lead. It’s a practice that has become the norm in today’s game (to the point of
being overdone), but Franks was the first to realize the benefit of reserving
his relief ace for late-game leads.

 

For his troubles, the Cubs unfairly fired Franks with seven
games remaining in the season. The following year, the Cubs finished 64-98,
nearly 30 games out of first place. They should have kept Franks.