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Sheffield in Right Field at Citi Field?

By Jim McNierney

The big buzz in the last week of this year's Spring Training has obviously been that the NY Mets had acquired the services of veteran outfielder, Gary Sheffield. The Detroit Tigers released Sheffield, a 40-year-old outfielder, March 31st. His career stats have him hovering just under the 500 home run plateau. He is coming off a disappointing year in which he only batted .225 in 2008 and was having less than a stellar spring training. He was currently hitting .178 in 18 games with only 8 hits in 45 at-bats.

In a press release, Tiger manager, Jim Leyland said by way of explanation, "We're going to go with versatility."

Mets GM, Omar Manaya told the press at the requisite news conference that he accepted this explanation, as it was consistent with other statements that the Mets were given from other members of the Detroit Tiger organization. Manaya also seemed to intimate that Sheffield had several suitors (the Phillies purportedly being one of them) and that he had chosen to pursue an opportunity with the Mets. Some accounts seem to indicate that he chose the Mets at the behest of his uncle, Dwight "Doc" Gooden.

In picking up Sheffield, the Mets will be making the roster addition with only a minimal hit to their salary cap. The Tigers will be paying him $14 Million this year for the last year of his contract.

On the surface this appears to be a "no-brainer". The Mets can add a potentially dangerous right hand bat to their roster with minimal risk. However, it's the intangible influence on the squad, which continues to trouble me. The Mets have a plethora of outfield talent already. Manual was looking to have a platoon with Tatis and Church in right field with perhaps Marlon Anderson, Angel Pagan and Jeremy Reed as additional bench strength. The addition of Sheffield is likely going to mean that Nick Evans (who had a marvelous spring) will be headed to the AAA team in Buffalo now.

Sheffield's reputation has historically been spotty. The Mets will become the eighth club Sheffield will have played for in his 22 year Major League career. It's been rumored that he has been associated with Steroid use in his past. While putting up some pretty consistent collective numbers in his career, his production in the last two years has tapered off dramatically. He has been playing in the American League for the last five seasons and has contributed solely as a DH in the last couple of those years.

In the two pre-season games played at Citi Field so far, it's apparent that right field at Citi Field with its many nooks and crannies will cause problems for skilled outfielders, Sheffield has never distinguished himself as a defensive force and could likely become a big liability in this situation if he garners much playing time there.

Of the group, Ryan Church, looks like the big loser in this deal. Church was almost single handedly carrying the club in the early months of the 2008 season prior to going on the DL due to a concussion. He attempted to regain that same stature in his aborted comebacks in the remaining portion of that season and has already seen his role diminished somewhat with his manager's suggestion that a platoon in right field is likely.

It remains to be seen how Manual will utilize Sheffield this year. Jerry Manual has been quoted as saying "I'm not trying to develop or evolve, I'm trying to win a championship." One school of thought could be that the Mets are taking a defensive posture with this signing as the rival Philadelphia Phillies were also very much in the running to acquiring the rights to Sheffield's talents. Despite Sheffield's claims to the contrary, it remains to be seen whether he will be content to being relegated to a supporting role on this club with limited action.

This year, the Mets really need some of its players to take a leadership role in this clubhouse to take the team to the next level and a playoff berth. In order to be effective, I feel that these leaders need to be everyday players while admittedly Santana stepped up last season and led by example in the stretch run. I don't believe Sheffield is (or should be) that leader. Therefore I question his overall worth to this team while potentially I fear that his presence will become a distraction and a detriment that the Mets can ill afford.


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