Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Phillies to Sign Gary Sheffield?

Is this along the lines of "Air Raid, Pearl Harbor, this is not a drill!"

Yes, it's April Fool's Day, but this is not a prank. The Tigers, who owe him about $14 million for the season, released him yesterday (he's one home run short of 500). The Phillies, who owe Geoff Jenkins $9 million for the season, released him yesterday (they released pitcher Adam Eaton earlier in the season, thereby eating $8 million), and have been looking for a right-handed bat off the bench since last season ended (and since Nomar Garciaparra opted to remain in California). At any rate, speculation ran rampant yesterday that the Phillies would pursue Sheffield, and the Philadelphia papers reported this morning that the Phillies did talk with his agent, but they also quoted the team as saying that it was unlikely that the Phillies would sign Sheffield. Of course, those reports conflict with what I heard Buster Olney say on ESPN this morning, which is that this could be a good match -- the defending champions would be attractive to Sheffield (who's battled injuries the past couple of years) -- if Sheffield will accept a part-time role -- and that the Phillies could use a bat like his off the bench.

So, that's the analytical cocktail, but it begs one question -- team chemistry. The Phillies are an amicable, jovial bunch who combine all-out hustle with merriment. Charlie Manuel runs a happy camp, and the players respond by busting their guts for him and each other. Jamie Moyer sets the tone as an elder statesman, and the nucleus of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and lightning rod Jimmy Rollins set the tone for excellence (even if the latter had a few lapses last season). Sheffield's historical me-first attitude and petulance just doesn't seem to be a fit, and the last time a Philadelphia team had this type of diva in town the opera ended badly (See, Philadelphia Eagles and Terrell Owens).

I remember when the T.O. affair blew up. The pundits had a field day on ESPN, and Mike Ditka offered a memorable line: "The odds are that if you have a rattlesnake as a pet, it's going to come up and bite you some day."

Docile men don't make good baseball players, and in his prime Gary Sheffield could put more torque on his swing -- with results -- that almost any other player. But his shoulder aches, he's forty, and he can't do what he used to, even if his mind and his handlers might tell him otherwise. He has a huge "buyer beware" sign blazing in neon on his forehead, and the Phillies should tread carefully here. Yes, I agree with Buster Olney that this seems the obvious thing to do, but a less obvious thing might be to trade with a team with an extra righty bat -- someone who can hit for some power and is known as a good chemistry guy.

After all, if a historically financially careful team is willing to eat $17 million in salary during the worst economy in three quarters of a century, might it not be willing to go the extra mile and get the right righty bat, not the most readily available one.

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