04/02/09 4:44 PM ET
Baker to speak with Sheffield
Skipper gauging interest in, need for veteran slugger
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Manager Dusty Baker was scheduled to speak with Sheffield on Thursday once the recently released slugger officially cleared waivers. For now, it's just a conversation. Where it may lead is anyone's guess, but Baker certainly did due dilligence to be prepared for the chat.
"I'm sure he has some offers," Baker said. "I asked Walt for permission to make the call. I made the call, then Walt talked to [Reds president and CEO Bob] Castelllini. I talked to Jim Leyland [Wednesday] night, just to see, because he hadn't played the outfield in a long time."
His ability to play the outfield was a bone of contention between the Tigers and Sheffield, with the team feeling he was only capable of DHing and Sheffield believing he had plenty left in the tank to play defense. The Tigers released Sheffield and his $14 million salary because of what they perceived to be his lack of flexibility.
"When I heard that word, versatility, I'm [thinking], 'I'm probably the most athletic guy on the team,'" Sheffield said at the time of his release. "But at the same time, that's their opinion and I have to respect that.
"I know I can play the outfield, so I'm not putting myself in that box. I know what I can do. I know I can throw better than most people. I still can run, and I still can hit. So that's all I can say."
Both Jocketty and Sheffield's agent, Rufus Williams, stated on Wednesday night that Baker and Sheffield have a history. That's possibly one reason why Baker's interest was piqued and why Sheffield might contemplate coming to the Reds. Baker said the relationship dates back a long time. That didn't keep him from asking Leyland about what kind of clubhouse presence he might be.
"Forever, ever since he came in the league with the Milwaukee Brewers," Baker said, "he was real tight with a couple of my homeys, La Vel Freeman and Mike Felder. I've known him a long time.
"His teammates like him. He's straightforward, says what he wants. That's what he gets publicity for, but he told me he was quiet and kind of to himself in the clubhouse."
Sheffield, who is one homer shy of 500 career home runs, hit .225 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs in 117 games in 2008, and was hitting .178 (8-for-45) with three homers this spring at the time of his release.
Where he would fit into the Reds roster is a bit of a question. He would most likely be asked to play against left-handers in left field, with an occasional start at first, and come off the bench as a pinch-hitter. Judging from his statements, Sheffield still believes he's capable of being a full-timer, so it's unclear whether the situation in Cincinnati would be of interest.
"I don't even know if we're in the running. He wants playing time," Baker said. "Probably a no against right-handers, because [Chris] Dickerson's coming quick. I'm not going to lie to him. He can spell Joey [Votto] sometimes at first base, since he's played first, against a tough lefty. He'd be my guy off the bench.
"Guys we have now have done a good job, Jonny Gomes and Darnell McDonald. Those guys are doing a heck of a job. It's no slight against them because Gary Sheffield is available."
The player who would most directly be affected by a Sheffield signing would undoubtedly be Gomes. Sheffield would basically replace him as the right-handed option in left field if this were to come to fruition. Gomes has been down this path before and is trying not to let it affect him before any decisions are made.
"Yeah, it could directly affect me," said Gomes, who has hit .227 with four homers and 12 RBIs this spring. "But I'll just go about my business. When I was with Tampa, there was talk about him coming there. He's almost followed me wherever I go.
"I know Sheff. He's given me nothing but great advice about hitting and about playing the game. I've got nothing but positive things to say about him."
Railing on Sheffield or worrying about what might happen would be counterproductive, he says. There was a similar situation a year ago with Tampa when the talk was about Barry Bonds possibly heading to the Rays. Then, as now, Gomes would rather focus on the field than future roster moves.
"That would waste a lot of energy thinking about that," Gomes said. "I'd rather channel it into my at-bats and my defense and things like that."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.