Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Sheff Deal

It's hard not to like the Detroit Tigers acquisition of Gary Sheffield. While, Sheffield has never been one of my favorites, he's a great hitter. Not a good hitter. A great hitter. When your career average is .298 and you are only forty-five homers short of 500, you qualify as a Hall of Fame caliber slugger. Yes, the Tigers did relinquish three prospects. However, let's consider two things.

First, how often can you get a middle of the lineup hitter with Sheffield's numbers? Teams that have them are usually not willing to give them up. The second thing to remember is that the Tigers made this deal and their starting rotation hasn't been altered. Do you think the Tigers could have landed a Manny Ramirez or even Mark Teixeira without sending Jeremy Bonderman or Nate Robertson the other way? The first thing I thought when I heard Sheffield was a Tiger? "Who's gone? Bonderman or Robertson?" Much to my continuing happiness, the answer was neither.

Now, the Tigers new clean-up hitter does come with baggage. His ego will arrive in Lakeland a full week ahead of his body. We all have reasons to be wary of Sheffield's ongoing unhappiness. However, I often believe these things get blown out of proportion. Let me give you an in-house example.

Last year, Pudge Rodriguez and Dmitri Young tossed Alan Trammell and, in turn, their teammates under the bus. They were clubhouse problems all season long and it probably cost Tram his job. This year, Jim Leyland arrives and keeps Pudge happy. Young runs into problems off-the-field and the Tigers finally see enough and ship him out. The two problem children of 2005 are no longer an issue in '06.

Want another Detroit example? Need I point out our very own, Rasheed Wallace? Arguably the NBA's poster child for bad behavior prior to his Detroit trade, Wallace has become a fan favorite here and his image has improved during his tenure in Auburn Hills. While his technical fouls continue at an astronomical pace, he's hardly the league's most hated player anymore. He isn't loved around the league, but his once famous antics haven't really materialized here.

Now, this isn't to say that Sheffield won't whine. The odds are overwhelming that he will. It's just that some of Sheff's attitude could be minimized in the right situation. Perhaps, reuniting with Leyland and Dave Dombrowski will help that. Perhaps, getting out of the Big Apple will diminish the amount of time Sheffield spends talking to the media, thus decreasing the odds of him saying something publicly the Tigers will cringe at. Maybe, just maybe, Sheffield can pull a Rasheed Wallace and find Detroit to his liking.

Let's also keep in mind the great panacea for all clubhouse problems -- winning. If the Tigers can continue to contend, Pudge, Sheffield and everyone else will find a way to make nice. That or we will downplay Sheffield's tantrums (think of Boston's "Manny being Manny" mantra) as long as the wins keep piling up. If Sheff is hitting .295 with 35 homers and 110 RBI on a Tigers team that is in first place, it's going to be hard to criticize the trade even if the three prospects are doing well.

And what of those three prospects, you might ask? What if one of them is the next John Smoltz? Well, let me start with some advice. STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE NEXT JOHN SMOLTZ. Geez, must we dwell on that one move forever? Do you want to trade in the 1987 A.L. East title? It's not like Doyle Alexander came to town and stunk the place up.

Just remember that everyone was worried about the Juan Gonzalez trade, too. The Tigers gave up too much. Justin Thompson could be great. Oh, Francisco Cordero is a star in the making. Frank Catalanotto can really hit. Thompson's arm blew out, Cordero had a few nice seasons in Texas but didn't tear up the league and Cat can still hit, but he's not a difference maker. (A side note. I wouldn't be overly surprised if Cat returned here this winter. Sheff's arrival might diminish the odds of Cat's second tour of Detroit, but for the right money, his lefty bat could help.)

I remember when Jeff Weaver got shipped out, too. Oh, the cries from Tigertown. While Weaver got his revenge on Dombrowski and company in Game Five, his career hasn't exactly lived up to our expectations. He's on team number five, at least. The Cardinals grabbed him this summer after the Angels decided it was back to the minors for the former Tigers pitcher of the future. I'll take Jeremy Bonderman, thank you. (And this if from a guy who's Tiger was Weaver, back in the day.)

For every one John Smoltz prospect there are countless hundreds of prospects that don't amount to more than a line in the Baseball Encyclopedia. The honest to goodness truth about prospects, from the uber-variety to the bargain bin models, is that they rarely pan out. Most never even make The Show. Sure the really hyped ones, especially those making good coin, do usually appear, but success is far from assured. Any number of factors -- injuries, roster logjams, not learning another pitch or inability to hit off-speed stuff, reaching the ceiling of their potential before reaching the majors -- can deter a player's career permanently.

The Tigers sent the Yankees a pitcher with a spotty minor league record prior to 2006 with a history of injuries. They also sent two Class A pitchers. The distance between Class A and Major League Baseball is quite a bit longer than the drive from Lakeland to Detroit. While the three prospects the Tigers sent to NY all have potential, you do have to give up something to make a trade. Yet, the success of all three young players is far from guaranteed. Their big league careers are hope. Conversely, Sheffield's is fact.

Without harming a World Series roster or giving up your number one prospect (Andrew Miller) the Tigers obtained a player who instantly becomes their most dangerous offensive threat. I may not be a Sheffield fan, but even I can appreciate how fortunate the Tigers are to pull of such a deal -- attitudes, risks and all.

1 comment:

Big Al said...

Well said, Brian. I'll take an established difference maker who plugs a huge hole over might-be's every day of the week.