TigsTown Analysis: The Sheffield Deal

The Tigers made the first blockbuster of the offseason in a typical aging star for stud prospects deal. Only this time around, the Tigers were on the other end of the deal, moving prospects in an attempt to upgrade the lineup and win now. Did the Tigers come out on top?

The key to the deal as far as the Tigers were concerned was adding that third bat to complete the heart of their order. After two straight years of a sub-.800 OPS, it was clear that Pudge Rodriguez would no longer be that bat. He could still be an effective hitter, and is still probably the best defensive catcher in baseball, but he's no longer the ideal 3-hole hitter.

That title likely falls on Carlos Guillen, who posted an OPS of .900-plus for the second time in three years (and that middle year he battled knee problems all season long). But, if Magglio Ordonez is hitting cleanup, the Tigers would be left without any protection for him.

In steps Gary Sheffield, who will likely take over the regular designated hitter duties, either protecting Ordonez in the lineup, or being protected by him.

The question is, is Sheffield at three years, $40 million and the prospects the Tigers gave up worth the alternative?

The alternative would be a six or seven year deal (worth at least $15 million/season) to the two premier outfield bats on the market; Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee.

Making such a commitment to either player has its strengths, but also its downfalls. The Tigers would be much more confident about a 30-year old slugger being able to stay healthy and produce over the next few years than the 38-year old Sheffield.

On the other hand, take a look at the Tigers current lineup. Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen are 31 years old. Rodriguez is about to turn 35. Ordonez will turn 33 before he reports for spring training. The young'ns on the team are Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge; both 29.

What does that mean? The Tigers likely have a two-three year window in which to compete with their current lineup, at which point they'll likely have to break things up and look to rebuild the lineup.

A 34-year old Carlos Lee with 3 years and $45 million left on his contract isn't likely to be the ideal figure to build around. Plus, there's no guarantee Lee or Soriano would have any interest in the Tigers, despite the Tigers big season.

Meanwhile, Sheffield doesn't present the same contractual issues, and has shown no signs of slowing throughout his mid 30's. Over the last five seasons, Sheffield has averaged a home run for every 17 at bats he has. Take out his freak wrist injury from last year, and he averaged more than 550 at bats each year the previous four seasons.

Sheffield may not be a spring chicken any more, but he's got the bat that he'll continue to be able to produce regularly, being in the lineup most nights. And he'll be able to do that without a back-breaking contract.

So that means the deal likely comes down to the prospects the Tigers gave up. $45 million may be a lot, but that'd pale in comparison if the Tigers ended up shipping out a future Cy Young winner. So did the Tigers give that up? It's impossible to predict, but it's highly unlikely.

Humberto Sanchez has an incredible fastball with great sinking action, and a very good breaking ball. Unfortunately, Sanchez also has a weight problem which he has been unable to keep under control for five seasons, which has led to him being unable to stay healthy.

A full season for a minor league starter would work out to be 27 or 28 starts. Over his four full seasons, Sanchez has averaged less than 19 starts. Never has he made more than 23. And, to add to that, Sanchez has already undergone Tommy John surgery.

One source very familiar with the Yankee system that has seen Sanchez pitch on multiple occasions believes it's only a matter of time before the Bronx Bombers shift Sanchez into a setup role, both because of Sanchez's struggles with stamina, and his lack of a serviceable third pitch.

Sanchez is the centerpiece, and while neither Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett are chopped liver, they aren't pitchers that the Tigers will be crushed about losing.

Whelan can be very impressive with solid stuff and a bulldog mentality, but he also can struggle with his control. Claggett was lights out for West Michigan, but he was also a 22-year old competing in a league that he was far too old for, and worked middle relief most of the season.

And, at the end of the day, it's rare that minor league closers actually turn into impressive big league relievers. Remember Franklyn German? Meanwhile, the Tigers two top setup men, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, both started for the Tigers for many years before ultimately settling into their relief roles.

While this is by no means a blowout trade for Dombrowski, he accomplished his goal of acquiring a big bat for the middle of the lineup. And he did so without sacrificing the team's elite prospects; Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. He also didn't leave the cupboard bare, with Jordan Tata, Jair Jurrjens and Eulogio de la Cruz all likely ready for big league action in '07. With all those arms, the Tigers can make due without Sanchez.

Especially when it means you've got Gary Sheffield intimidating opposing pitchers.


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