Monday, November 13, 2006

Tigers' Trade For Sheffield Uncharacteristic, But Refreshing

The significance of the Tigers' trade for Gary Sheffield isn't so much what kind of impact it will have on the team -- and it will be great -- but the fact that they were in a position to make a trade of this magnitude in the first place.

The Tigers have not, throughout their history, been blockbuster makers. Even when the team was competitive in the 60's and 80's, they didn't take many risks. They won the "old fashioned way" -- with homegrown talent and a few "safe", low-risk trades along the way. The second side of that sword is that, when the farm was suffering through a drought, the lack of bold moves meant a series of bad years in the 70's. And the 90's. And the early 2000's.

He's not a bad guy, according to DD and Leyland

The Tigers are no longer sellers and watchers of other having fun during the offseason. The Sheffield trade for three minor league pitchers seals that belief. This is a potential Hall of Fame guy, a fearsome bat that should thwack many a line drive over the Comerica Park left field wall.

Already, manager Jim Leyland can't contain his excitement.

"I was up at 1 a.m. making out [a bunch] of lineups," Leyland told the Detroit press after the trade was announced. "You talk about adding a bat, then you talk about adding Gary Sheffield.

"I'm tickled to death right now."

He should be. In a great minority is the major league manager who works for an ownership that will think nothing of making a trade such as the one the Tigers made for Sheffield. More often than not, a manager watches helplessly as his talent base is lost thru attrition and lack of money. Leyland has been there, too -- with the Florida Marlins after their improbable 1997 championship.

Chances are that at least one of three young pitchers the Tigers traded for Sheffield will find some success in the big leagues. The way the Tigers have been scouting and drafting lately, it's unlikely that all three of them will fizzle out. But it was worth it, in their eyes -- in GM Dave Dombrowski's eyes, most importantly -- to get a bat of the stature of Sheffield, who is closing in on 500 career homers.

The risk, of course, is there not only due to Sheffield's age (38) and his recent wrist injury (he says the wrist is better than ever), but because of his less-than-stellar reputation as a problem player. Problem for managers. Problem for management. Problem for the paying customers.

Bah, humbug, the Tigers say.

Sheffield has history with DD and Leyland, winning that '97 Series with them as a Marlin. He has already been quoted as being "ecstatic" about the trade. But it has begun nicey-nicey with Sheffield before, in other baseball towns. It usually hasn't ended that way. Even this departure from the Yankees was not without the usual salvos fired by the malcontent athlete.

Gary Sheffield may come to be despised and looked at with disdain by the folks around Comerica Park, including the ticket takers and bat boys, by the time his new three-year deal is set to expire. The leap of faith is that by then, the Tigers will have won a World Series or two.

Which makes it all worth it.


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