Difference of opinion
So here’s an interesting question to consider in the wake of Gary Sheffield’s release: What if Sheff ends up signing with a National League team (the Phillies, perhaps) and playing the outfield? Will that make a difference in what Tigers fans think? Will that put Tuesday’s decision in a different light?
Because at this point, there’s clearly a very big difference of opinion as to whether Sheff can still play in the field. The Tigers felt like he was a DH only, and told him so when they said they made the decision to release him based on versatility.
“When I heard that word, versatility, I’m like, ‘I’m probably the most athletic guy on the team,’” Sheffield said. “But at the same time, that’s their opinion and I have to respect that.”
Manager Jim Leyland conditioned his answer when asked if there’s a difference of opinion.
“I don’t question it,” Leyland said. “I didn’t question it ever. If you go back to what I said last year, I was worried about Sheffield getting hurt if he played the outfield.”
If you remember back to when Sheffield was injured playing the outfield, though, it was on a relatively freak play, a collision with second baseman Placido Polanco. And if it’s a shoulder injury that would be the worry, it would seem more likely to come on a swing than on a throw. The question might more realistically be whether there was a fear of Sheffield breaking down physically if he played the outfield regularly.
More realistically, given the roster situation, the Tigers could keep Sheffield or Marcus Thames, but not both. Given the economy and the thinking of teams around the league right now, neither was a strong trade candidate, though the Tigers tried. And if the Tigers were going to keep Sheffield over Thames, they had better be sure they could get a good season’s worth of production out of him. Because it wasn’t just an Opening Day decision, but a longer-term decision. If Sheffield got hurt in late April, there would be no Thames to which to turn, unlike years past.
And at this point in their careers, the Tigers made a decision that they had a better chance at getting more out of Thames, not just in the field but very possibly at the plate.
“He’s got the best home-run ratio in baseball, or one of them, the last few years,” Jim Leyland said.
Yes, those Thames prognostications we all were building pretty much ended up off. That’s how much financial considerations, and an owner’s willingness to look past them, can make a difference.
“Mr. Ilitch has always listened to our opinions on what gives us the best chance to win,” Leyland said.
That said, Leyland added, “I don’t make the decision to cut contracts. I manage the team.”
And the prevailing opinion among club officials was that Thames was their guy. It does not mean they concluded that Sheff was done.
“He will get it,” Leyland said of Sheffield’s 500th home run. “And more.”
Sheff certainly believes that he will.
“I’ve got a lot left. I know that,” he said. “If one person doesn’t think you can play in the field, that’s their opinion. I know I can. Nobody understands my body better than me. Unfortunately, I got hurt here and never been able to show what I can really do. But I fought real hard to get back to this point. I just feel like I’ve got more to give.”
That includes the outfield. And if you read the quotes, you can detect a twinge of regret that Sheffield accepted a DH role a few years back when the trade was made.
“I can go out there on an everyday basis and play in the outfield,” he said. “That’s what I yearn for. I want to be in the outfield. At the same time, it kind of puts you in a box when you accept the DH role, because people start labeling you as that’s all you can do. And that’s not the case. I accepted this role because this was pretty much the only opportunity that I had at the time of leaving New York and going to a place where I was comfortable. So I had to take the DH role. I could’ve not come to Detroit and waited on another situaiton and played the outfield. But I chose to come around people that I know.”