Mets Signing of Mercurial OF Has Risks Attached
If you're a baseball general manager going bargain hunting at the end of Spring Training, hooking a corner outfielder sitting on 499 career home runs for the major league minimum isn't a bad catch.
Even if that fish happens to be Gary Sheffield. Maybe.
Yes, the Mets did fill a need by signing the veteran after he was released by Detroit. All parties are saying the right things now that Sheffield is on board after he also fielded calls from Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The 40-year-old has not played the outfield regularly in nearly three years after being the designated hitter for the Tigers and the position that he is most likely to play - right field - is not an easy one to learn to begin with at the new home stadium for the Mets. Like its inspiration before it, Cit Field's quirky dimensions there bring back memories of a similar patch of grass at Ebbets Field, but no one is going to mistaken Sheffield for Carl Furrillo.
Ryan Church, who missed time during his first campaign in New York after suffering two concussions, figures to be the odd man out when Sheffield gets a start. Daniel Murphy is going to be the left fielder and manager Jerry Manuel has already stated that he wants the youngster to get as many at-bats as possible. On the days that Church finds himself on the pine, centerfielder Carlos Beltran better have his Wheaties for breakfast. Murphy is still learning the outfield and Sheffield, at this stage of his career, is going to bring back memories of Dave Kingman's attempts at chasing down fly balls.
But the Mets were looking for offense when they inked Sheff, who will enter an elite group of power hitters with his next home run. 500 dingers is one of the marks that make the Hall of Fame enter conversations, but considering that Sheffield has admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs (although he maintained that he did not know what they were), that number may be tainted to some to allow his plaque to hang in Cooperstown.
Even if the voters overlook the steroid issue, Sheffield has not exactly been a choir boy throughout his tedious past. To name a few, he got into a shouting match with a Red Sox fan in Boston in 2005 and said that Joe Torre (his manager at the time with the Yankees) treated players differently because of their skin color.
The Mets are Sheffield's eighth team and he hasn't left all of them on the best of terms. He was nearly acquired on two separate occasions over the years by the Mets, but both deals fell through. His uncle is Dwight Gooden, who Sheffield referred to at his introductory press conference.
When asked why he chose to sign in New York, Sheffield replied without hesitation, "Because my uncle played here." He further stated that he would have been content staying home if no one contacted him after the Tigers let him go. The $14 million the team had to swallow was still coming to him either way, but Gooden made sure that his nephew wouldn't get too cozy watching "The View" every day.
"He (Gooden) was trying to push me off the couch," said Sheffield. "He kept reminding me I always said I wanted to play here."
After 21 seasons, he may have little left in the tank. Last summer, he hit only .225 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI. His last productive season came with the Yankees in 2005 when he went .291/34/123.
Sheffield maintains that he will be content on being a pinch-hitter if that is asked of him and that his reason for coming here was to win another championship. That remains to be seen. If the team offense is floundering, Murphy is going through growing pains and Church remains a very pedestrian type of player, Sheffield will not be able to control himself. He knows how to play the New York media and will do so to get his message across.
Everyone is happy when the team is winning, but Sheffield would surprise no one is he started squawking about playing time during a winning streak.