The Yankees hold a $13 million option on (former) right fielder Gary Sheffield for the 2007 season, and although the acquisition of Bobby Abreu from the Philadelphia Phillies seemed to signal the end of Sheffield’s tenure in the Bronx, the team may exercise that option, according to the New York Post, with the intent to trade the veteran.
Such a move would offer several benefits over letting Sheff become a free agent. Not only would the player or players received in a trade likely be better than whatever draft pick compensation the team would receive, but General Manager Brian Cashman would be able to control, at least partially, where Sheffield winds up. A Gary Sheffield on the free agent market might quickly become a Gary Sheffield playing his home games in Fenway Park, whereas a trade can keep him away from Boston, at least initially.
The biggest advantage of picking up the option, however, is the potential for the Yankees to then keep Sheffield. New outfielder Bobby Abreu is a nice player, no doubt, and an on-base machine. But he’s no Gary Sheffield.
At 38 years of age — 39 in mid-November — Sheffield has a lot of injury concerns, but that’s where the trepidation ends. Taking out the injury-shortened 2006 season, Sheffield is still one of the most ferocious hitters in the game today.
Yes, his numbers dropped steadily since 2003, when he was with the Atlanta Braves — all the way down to 34 homeruns, a .379 On-Base Percentage, and a .512 Slugging Percentage, all of which were good enough to land Sheffield in the top five among American League outfielders in those categories.
Yes, Sheffield would have two years and a significant injury added onto those 2005 numbers, but he would also be in the Designated Hitter role for the first time in his career, a move that should keep him healthier and fresher than he’s been in years.
A 2007 Yankee lineup that includes Sheffield would have no holes whatsoever, not one easy out. As long as he has been the principal owner of the Yankees, General George M. Steinbrenner, III has envisioned a lineup of nine All-Stars. With the lineup that is being discussed, that stops being a dream and becomes a reality.
Steinbrenner has already had lineups that consisted of nine previous All-Stars, but those were the days when Raul Mondesi was in right field. In 2007, however, not only will every player in the starting lineup have at least one All-Star selection under his belt, counting Robinson Cano’s selection this season, but each hitter will also have a legitimate chance of being an All-Star in that particular season.
Think about it. Yankee fans are talking about a starting lineup in which Robinson Cano — who has posted a .353 On-Base Percentage in 271 at-bats so far this season — could very well be the easiest out.
Projecting this year’s team to next year, that 2007 team would have a bench — Sal Fasano, Craig Wilson, Miguel Cairo, Bernie Williams, and Melky Cabrera — that could start for some other teams around Major League Baseball.
Could Melky Cabrera step into the Yankee lineup and continue, or perhaps even improve on, his performance this season? Sure, but that’s not the Boss’ Dream Team. Previously thought of as a fourth or fifth outfielder on a bad team, Cabrera proved this season that he can start for most teams in baseball and that he can hold his own on the Yankee roster. Oh, but the criteria for the Boss’ Dream Team is much higher than that. Sorry, Melky. Better luck next year. But who are we kidding? Cabrera at his best this season, even with the extra points for being home-grown, as much as we love him, is no Gary Sheffield, and he probably never will be.
Would the team be better overall if the defense was improved by having Craig Wilson or even Andy Phillips at first base with Jason Giambi as the DH? Sure, but the Boss’ Dream Team doesn’t account for defense. The bats are what counts, and neither Wilson nor Phillips can hold a candle to Giambi in the batter’s box. One of those guys, Wilson in particular, can have a spot on the bench and can spell Giambi, who can DH, pushing Sheffield to the outfield on those days, but Steinbrenner’s Dream Team has no room for a Craig Wilson or an Andy Phillips in the starting lineup.
And does defense really matter anyway? That lineup can more than compensate for whatever it lacks in the field. If Jason Giambi makes an error in the field that leads to a run, he can easily make up for it by hitting a homerun when he steps up. And if he can’t, his fellow lefty sluggers Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu can. Or maybe it will be the right handed sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Perhaps it would be the switch-hitter Jorge Posada to make up the difference. Even the "no power" guys — Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Johnny Damon — have been known to hit a clutch homer at times.
A brand new stadium won’t be enough for Steinbrenner’s legacy. He has to leave the Yankee fans with at least one more World Championship. And even that can’t be done in any way. It has to be done with the greatest offense ever built, and that requires keeping Gary Sheffield.
The pitching staff, however, is another story.