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New Sheff In Town

By Jason Levy

Maybe I should have waited one more day to give a season preview for the New York Mets. On the Friday before the season begins, the Mets signed outfielder Gary Sheffield, who had been released by the Detroit Tigers earlier in the week. The move won’t cost the Mets much money, as Sheffield will still earn $14 million from the Tigers from his original contract. Sheffield is also one homer shy of 500, a big milestone for a veteran player gunning to make the Hall of Fame.
This could be the move that puts the Mets over the top, or destroys the clubhouse. The players who are most affected are corner outfielders Ryan Church, Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis. The right-hand hitting Sheffield will almost certainly relegate Tatis to the bench full time as a pinch hitter and to give the occasional day off for a corner outfielder or infielder. And Sheffield didn’t come to Flushing to sit on the bench, he will expect to play. Whether that is as a full-time starter or a righty/lefty platoon remains to be seen. But either Church or Murphy will be relegated to the bench, getting some starts against righty pitching. For a younger kid like Murphy, he may be alright with that, stepping aside for a well-traveled vet after a quick ascension to the Mets starting lineup. But it could be detrimental to Church, who could see this as a sign that the Mets brass isn’t confident he can be their everyday right fielder and may not be fully recovered from his concussions from last season.
This is a very risky move for the Mets. Sheffield’s numbers declined heavily in 2008, as he hit .225 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs in 418 at-bats, each well short of his career averages. And while there are many reports that his teammates like him, controversy follows Sheffield where ever he goes. He will speak his mind, no matter who it upsets. Personally, there are fewer players, in all of sports, I have disliked more than Sheffield. He has always come across as a me-first player, and especially now that he is past his prime, this could blow up in the Mets face. Let’s just hope that Sheff has a little bit left in the tank, and meshes in the clubhouse. Jerry Manuel’s job just got a lot more interesting.

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