04/01/09 9:48 PM ET
Baker confirms Reds' interest in Sheff
Cincinnati manager to meet with recently released outfielder Thursday
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Manager Dusty Baker told Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty on his WLW radio show that he would meet with Sheffield on Thursday. The 40-year-old Sheffield was released by the Tigers on Tuesday.
"We are going to talk," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty confirmed. "Dusty talked with him [on Tuesday] night. The two have a history. We have to wait for him to clear waivers [Thursday], but we'll talk after that. We have interest because he is a legitimate big bat to add to our lineup."
Sheffield has 499 career home runs and a .292 average. Last year with the Tigers, he hit .225 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs in 114 games. He was hampered by lingering pain in his surgically repaired shoulders for most of the year. This spring, he was reportedly healthy, but hit .178 (8-for-45) with three home runs at the time of his release.
One of the issues behind the release, and the Tigers eating his $14 million salary as a result, was that Detroit saw Sheffield as a DH only and wanted to free up those at-bats for others on the roster, most notably Marcus Thames. Sheffield, though, feels he could easily go to a team that needs him to play frequently in the field if that's what opportunity arises.
"As many as I need to," Sheffield said about how many games he could play in the outfield. "I can go out there on an everyday basis and play in the outfield. 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."
The Reds, or any National League team, would need to side with Sheffield in that debate before feeling comfortable with signing him. For the Reds, he'd likely be asked to play left field when in the lineup. What that would mean for Chris Dickerson and Jonny Gomes, the pair most likely to see time in left as the roster stands right now, remains to be seen.
Sheffield's agent, Rufus Williams, has fielded calls from many teams expressing interest, including the Phillies. Sheffield himself has said he wouldn't mind continuing his career in his hometown of Tampa, with the Rays. Williams confirmed the Reds are among the teams who have given him a call and that it's one of the possibilities that does interest the nine-time All-Star.
"Gary and Dusty have had a relationship for some time," Williams said. "The notion of playing for him would be an interesting one. There have been a lot of interesting possibilities and there probably will continue to be some until we get to the point where we can make a good decision.
"There's a reasonable timetable. Obviously, the season begins Sunday. We're challenged to be some place by then, and most challenged to be sure Gary's in the best situation."
Whoever signs Sheffield could possibly do so at the Major League minimum since the Tigers are responsible for his $14 million. That doesn't mean, of course, that Sheffield will go just anywhere. While there is a time crunch, it sounded like Team Sheffield would choose wisely and carefully.
"Gary is a wonderful talent," Williams said. "He's an incredible player who recently has become available. His plan was not to stop playing after last year and to not stop playing after this year. The doors are open and teams have been contacting us expressing interest.
"We're willing to listen to all of them and looking to determine what's in Gary's best interest and what's in the best interest of the team he goes to."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. Jason Beck contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.