2009 Analysis: Gary Sheffield

gary-sheffield-sideEntering the 2009 season, the Mets were one slugger short of a championship lineup. They didn’t bother acquiring one during the winter because Daniel Murphy was going to hit like Wade Boggs and the Fernando Tatis – Ryan Church in right field was going to be the best seen in Flushing since the days of Ron Swoboda and Art Shamsky.

But when Gary Sheffield was released outright by the Detroit Tigers, the Mets snapped him up — much to the chagrin of nearly every fan, blogger, radio personality, journalist, and pundit within earshot of Citi Field (note I said “nearly“).

After all, Gary Sheffield was a loafing, selfish, evil, degenerate senior citizen who was going to cause a major disruption in the delicate Mets’ clubhouse and poison the minds of the precocious young ballplayers. There were also fears that he would steal everyone’s wallets, molest the players’ wives, put a cap in David Wright’s head, eat the Wilpons’ babies, and otherwise completely disgrace the Mets’ brand image — all while confined to a body cast and wheelchair resulting from his first attempt to walk up the dugout steps and onto the field.

As it turned out, Sheffield was a model citizen, perfect teammate, productive player, and didn’t pull a gun on anyone for five months! He was the only power threat in the lineup from May through August, and played through injuries while others dropped from the roster like flies.

Then he made the egregious gesture of discussing a contract extension.

His overture was flatly denied by the Mets front office, who preferred to table the discussion until a later date — maybe sometime in November (or maybe the way it spilled out of Omar Minaya’s mouth it sounded like “sometime in never”). Sheffield, being an emotional human being, was upset with that decision, and had the bad luck of being seen by a member of the press (or someone who leaked the tantrum to the press) while in that ill mood. Almost immediately, the Sheffield detractors came out of the woodwork, only too happy to jump on the “Sheffield is the devil” bandwagon and beat the drum that had been kept within arm’s length of their keyboards and microphones for the previous five months. The “I told you so’s” that came pouring out were pathetic, as the shock jocks and columnists completely dismissed the contribution and otherwise stellar behavior exhibited by Sheffield in a Met uniform.

(BTW, good luck to the Mets in finding players who WANT to play in Flushing circus next year.)

After “the incident”, we didn’t see much of Sheff. Suddenly the nagging leg and back issues were keeping him on the bench. The Mets need to take “extended looks” at people like Cory Sullivan and Fernando Tatis. In a few weeks, he faded from memory.

Which is too bad. The vanishing of Sheffield in September surely was a combination of the disagreement between Mets management and Sheffield, and Sheff’s physical ailments. But he did prove, through it all, that he could still hit. It’s doubtful he’ll ever again be an everyday player, but the bat speed is there, and the behavioral problems are an overblown fallacy. If Sheff wants to play in 2010, he will, and he’ll be productive. Not the superstar he once was, but productive.

The shame of it is, just before “the incident”, Sheffield received a custom-made first baseman’s glove (as part of an endorsement deal). He knew the outfield was getting to be too much for his old bones, and that Daniel Murphy would need a platoon partner. But since he never had the chance to show what he could do at the position, we’ll never know if he and Murphy would’ve been a good tandem.

Of course, if the Mets acquire a big-time first baseman and/or send Murphy packing, this point is moot. In fact, the whole argument is moot because “the incident” effectively eliminated Sheff’s tenure as a Met.

For five months though, Gary Sheffield was fun to watch and a big reason the Mets had any hope at all.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. astromets November 28, 2009 at 3:02 pm
    Honestly, I would not be upset to see him again next year on the Mets. He said he was going to work his butt off this year so that he could be in field playing shape next year, and I believe him. I know he is a risk, but the reward could be so great, and if the 1B business is true than he looks even better. Murphy needs a platoon partner, and Davis will for a little too, so why not give him a try? Save our money and prospects, and still put a club good enough to win on the field. What do other people think of Sheffield in a LF/1B/bench role?
  2. isuzudude November 28, 2009 at 5:20 pm
    The bridge has been burned from both ends regarding Sheffield and the Mets, so regardless of how much sense it might make to bring him back, it’s just not happening. Time to move on.
  3. Mark November 28, 2009 at 6:01 pm
    I have to admit he outperformed my expectations and was a better citizen than I ever thought he could be. Doubt he could replicate either of those two things next season though.
  4. Harry Chiti November 28, 2009 at 7:01 pm
    These comments blow me away.
    1, What makes anybody think that Gary sheffield will suddenly defy the gaing process and be able to field again in ’10 after years of not be able to do so. Has he found something that will not be discovered on the drug tests?
    2. How can you say he was a better citizen than you thought. He fought with the manager about being on the DL when he could barely walk, after this manaer went out of his way to give him playing time all year. He acted like he was 3 when he didn’t get dealt and didn’t get his extension.
    3. If the org can’t find a player who can do as much as this formally good player did, then they might as well just close shop and forget about winning until there’s a new GM
  5. WT Economist November 28, 2009 at 7:24 pm
    He had the right season with the wrong team. If everyone had stayed healthy, it could have been a great last hurrah for him and DelGado, with 500 hrs each, but it was not to be. The Mets should have traded him for what they could, like Wagner.

    In the meantime, someone give some props to Tatis. When Sheffield was acquired, Church felt threatened and sulked, and Evans, down in AAA, went into a funk.

    Tatis played nearly not at all in the first month, following comeback player of the year honors. Then he was asked to play damn near everywhere. He never complained, at least on in English, and did what he could, even if it wasn’t great. Isn’t that worth something?

  6. Harry Chiti November 29, 2009 at 5:10 am
    You proved Sheffield’s value to the team WT. Church, Tatis, Evans, Murphy all got screwed by the Sheffield signing, and all Sheffield did was hit a few HRs and field like a man twice his age. Notice how nobody complained about Murphy in left in ’08 but as soon as Sheffield came and destroyed the roles of the other players, Murphy couldn’t catch. And what was so great about a has been hitting 500 for the Mets when the 499 were elsewhere?
  7. Amy November 29, 2009 at 10:35 am
    Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking. I had fun watching Gary Sheffield play last year on the Mets. He played great like he always does. Wherever he plays next year I’ll be following him, if it’s on the Mets, the Rangers, the Braves, wherever. He’ll sign a reasonable 1 year contract and produce like he always does. Somebody’s going to get a lot of value for their money.
  8. isuzudude November 29, 2009 at 11:29 am
    I know the Tigers certainly didn’t get a lot of value for their money spent on Sheffield, Amy.

    Sentimental value and good feelings aside, Shef is a poor fielding, one-dimensional player who’s way up there in age, is always hurt (a la Moises f’n Alou), and is a known malcontent. Maybe he played the role of good citizen for the majority of 2009, but to assume he can be just as productive and peaceful again in 2010 is a leap of faith I’m not willing to take. Think fondly of his time with the team in ’09 and bid him adieu. Don’t look back.

  9. joejanish November 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm
    Wow, a lot of contrasting views on Sheff!

    I don’t think Sheff is a poor fielder when healthy – but will admit his health is a concern going forward. Which is why 1B makes so much sense.

    How exactly did Tatis, Evans, Church and Murphy get “screwed” or have their roles “destroyed” by Sheffield?

    Evans was going to be sent down after a week anyway when the Mets needed another pitcher. Church never “sulked” and never had his role affected by Sheff’s presence — the only one affecting Church was Jerry Manuel, from day 1 in ST.

    Murphy was “screwed” by Johan Santana, who publicly stated that Murphy couldn’t play LF (and who knows what was said behind closed doors). And as it turned out, his role wasn’t “destroyed” — he finished the year with 550 plate appearances.

    Tatis had his usual hot/cold streaky season and wound up playing in more games than he had in 10 years.

    As for “arguing with the manager” about staying off the DL, I don’t recall that. If he did have such a conversation, I can’t hold that against him as a character flaw. The Mets had no problem allowing nearly every other injured player remain on the roster far longer than they should have (Putz, Beltran, Reyes, etc.). And while that broken-down old man was begging to stay on the 25-man roster, able-bodied, youthful players were hustling only when they deemed appropriate.

    As for being “one-dimensional” — even if he was, he was among the team leaders in most offensive categories for a good portion of the year. Without that one dimension in the lineup the Mets might’ve had a shot at a top 3 draft pick next year — so blame Sheffield for missing out on that.

    I get that Sheffield may not fit on the 2010 Mets — don’t worry, he won’t be anywhere near Flushing next year — but some of these reasons are unsubstantiated. I prefer to take the stance that the Mets are rebuilding in 2010, and Sheff’s presence will take ABs away from Evans, Carter, and whomever else they find to play LF / 1B.

  10. Amy November 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm
    You might not be willing to take it but I will take it. I want to watch the Hall of Famer for as long as I can. He proved that he can still hit and that’s all that matters. I like guys who aren’t afraid to stir the pot a little. I don’t care about peaceful. I like hearing his quotes and I love watching him play.
  11. Amy November 29, 2009 at 5:46 pm
    I’m sitting here watching the 40-year old Brett Favre lead the 9-1 Minnesota Vikings. So I see no reason why Gary Sheffield can’t hit and produce in 2010. If your good enough and have talent and experience age doesn’t seem to matter. Favre and Sheffield seem to make the players around them better. They know how to lead. They have a swagger. They like to prove people wrong.
  12. KD November 29, 2009 at 9:12 pm
    Sorry Amy but the best thing that Gary brought to the table was showing the guys who wear long pants how to apply resin to their cleats so that they stick together.If Gary is going to grab a 1b glove I would rather see Delgado back in 2010. At least he makes an stab at calming Ollie down.Oh and I hate B. Farve… retire already!!! What did he do for the Jets last year?? Now he has a great team around him and everybody annoints him king… Didn’t they already do this with Elway??