Analysis: Sheffield in Philly?

After clearing waivers, Gary Sheffield is officially a free agent. The Phillies are interested, but there is at least one other team fighting for Sheffield's services.

As expected, nobody claimed Gary Sheffield on waivers, so the Detroit Tigers are now officially stuck with his $14 million salary and Sheffield is now officially a free agent.

As things stand now, there are basically just two teams showing any interest in Sheffield, at least publicly. The Phillies jumped in early with a quick call to Sheffield's agent, Rufus Williams and the Cincinnati Reds came in shortly after that.

Both teams have since wavered at times, but for right now, both teams are interested.

Cincinnati has been very public about their interest in Sheffield. Manager Dusty Baker spoke to Sheffield's former manager, Jim Leyland on Wednesday and received good reports about Sheffield in the clubhouse.

"His teammates liked him. He's straightforward and says what he wants. That's what he gets publicity for. But he told me he's quiet and off to himself on the clubhouse," Baker said of his discussion with Leyland, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Meanwhile, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com wrote this morning that the Phillies "very much want to sign" Sheffield.

The Phillies would only be risking $400 thousand to sign Sheffield. If things went badly, either on the field or in the clubhouse, the Phillies could cut him and not be on the hook for a lot of money.

So, why the concerns over Sheffield?

While Leyland would dispute it, the public perception of Sheffield is that he's not a great clubhouse guy. For a team like the Phillies that's born and bred on team chemistry, throwing someone like Sheffield into the mix could muddy up the waters and make the chemistry turn into weird science.

Possibly of more concern is; one, would Sheffield be happy with the limited number of at-bats that the Phillies would have to offer him. And two, can he still play outfield? He's only played 39 games in the outfield over the past three seasons and just six last year with Detroit.

Baker said he discussed Sheffield's remaining ability to play outfield with Leyland, but didn't disclose what Leyland had to say.

While Sheffield insists that he can play at least two or three more seasons, his stats have begun to show the signs of a player nearing the end of his run. Last season, for just the fourth time in his 21 year career, Sheffield struck out more than he walked. The last time that he did that was in an injury-filled season back in 2006, his last in New York. He also hit just .225 last season and has a combined average of just .246 over the past two seasons.

Sheffield has said that he would consider playing as a part-time player, but it's obviously a role that he would have to get used to. Sheffield has just 34 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in his career, but has an impressive .360 average in that role.

If not for the fact that the dollar value risk is so low, the Phillies wouldn't even be considering signing Gary Sheffield. As for chemistry, it's unlikely that he would do so much damage that it would distract the Phillies. After all, the more well-balanced clubhouses in the game have a way of policing themselves and the Phillies certainly have a well-balanced crew.

Signing Sheffield is worth the risk, but it doesn't guarantee a smooth, easy or successful ride for him or the Phillies if he were to come to town.



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