Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (8/11-14: TOR; 8/15-17: BAL)

First, it was Pudge Rodriguez. Now you can maybe add Gary Sheffield to the list.

The "list" is that of Hall of Fame-caliber players the Tigers will off-load before the 2009 season. Obviously, that list already includes Rodriguez, traded to the Yankees on July 30. But don't be surprised if Sheffield is not a Tiger next season -- and you certainly SHOULDN'T be surprised by that.

Sheffield, 39, has a contract that takes him through the 2009 season, and it pays a hefty $14 million. Not exactly an easy thing to get rid of, I know, but I look at his recently-published comments and it's hard to see Sheff in Detroit in 2009.

To be blunt, as Sheffield himself always is, he hates being a DH. Hates it. "I don't feel like a ballplayer," he said, and he has said that, or something similar, many times before. Sheffield feels "complete" only when he's wearing a glove and playing the outfield. It's tough not to respect that attitude; but you do what you're asked to do, at the same time.

Which brings me back to my original postulate: that Sheffield probably won't be back in Detroit because, first of all, there really isn't any room for him in the outfield. Sheff is a right fielder, by trade, and with Magglio Ordonez here, that's out. In left field, the situation is murkier, because there are several candidates: Marcus Thames, Matt Joyce, Ryan Raburn, and Sheffield. And, frankly, left field was supposed to be mostly set, with the acquisition of Jacque Jones (remember him?).

There just isn't room, unless you sit someone down or make him a DH and let Sheffield be a "complete" ballplayer. Still, it may not give Sheff the amount of work he craves in the field.

I can't help but think back to my initial meeting with Sheffield, back at the beginning of the 2007 season. It was April, and Sheff sat down with me for about ten minutes. I asked him about his initial thoughts after hearing that he'd been traded to Detroit, in November '06.

"I didn't think it was a very good fit," he said at the time. "My first thought was, 'Where am I gonna play?'"

Sheffield looked at the Tigers outfield, saw how crowded it was, and it was a natural question to ask.

"But then after talking to Skip (manager Jim Leyland), I felt better [about being a DH]," Sheffield told me.

But now, apparently, Sheffield is having the same reservations about the situation in Detroit as he did almost two years ago.

Leyland isn't normally a fan of players taking their beefs to the newspapers. But nor do I know how the recent quote from Sheffield about not wanting to be DH came about. Chances are, someone simply asked him. That's pretty much all you have to do to get Gary Sheffield to tell you what's on his mind. Regardless, Leyland would prefer that such feelings be kept within the confines of the clubhouse, and his office.

For that alone -- Sheffield's talking to the papers -- Sheffield won't be shipped out, of course. But it serves to underline the unhappiness with which he'll play if he is asked to come back next season as a DH.

Then there's the issue of his health -- which he says isn't a concern anymore. In fact, he had a warning for the pitchers in the AL.

"You had your fun with me when I was down," Sheffield said of his time spent with a bum shoulder and other ailments. "Throw the ball down the middle now."

Tough talk, and if he can back it up, then the Tigers will have something as they try like mad to stay in the divisional race.

But as for next season, I'd put the chances of Sheffield returning to the Tigers as somewhere less than 50%.

Ahh, but who will the Tigers fleece to take that monstrous contract off their hands?

Answer: no one -- not the way I wrote the above question, anyway. The Tigers will almost certainly have to eat a portion of the contract to make any deal work. Few teams, if any, will agree to pay the entire $14 million for a 40-year-old player with diminishing outfield skills.

And it'll be just another chapter in Sheffield's mercurial career.



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