Sheffield’s Welcome Wears Out Again

Gary Sheffield becomes the first major player move of the offseason, shipping out to Detroit for three minor league pitchers. Interestingly, while the Yankees concluded that they had too many big, exorbitantly-paid veteran sluggers with big egos, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs was eager to claim one of those sluggers. Go figure.
From the Yanks’ perspective, the deal probably had to be made. Sheffield wasn’t going to fit well in the lineup unless he was willing to play first base, and while few of the pricey Yankee vets can really be moved, Sheffield was the one with the longest and best-known arsenal of methods to make himself a nuisance in the clubhouse. Even with Sheffield’s departure, if Giambi can’t play first base, the Yanks are stuck with nowhere to put Melky Cabrera unless he, Abreu, Damon or Matsui parks his wheels at first.
I don’t know that much about the pitching prospects, Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett. The 23-year-old Sanchez, a starter, is the top guy for now, the closest to the majors but having missed the last two months of the season with an elbow injury. His numbers suggest a guy just mastering his stuff, as his career minor league BB/9 rate is 4.56, but under 4 in 2005 and 2006; in 2006 he struck out 129 batters in 123 innings between AA and AAA. The 22-year-old Whelan, a reliever, is behind him in progress, having walked 4.26 per 9 innings for his career without advancing beyond 78.1 career innings A ball, but his 110 career whiffs (12.68 per 9) suggest a live arm. Claggett is a college reliever with a little over a year of pro experience, but good results so far. To an organization starved for young arms, this is a good deal.
For the Tigers, Sheffield is an investment in taking a 1-year miracle and turning it into a credible contender, as with the White Sox’ acquisition of Jim Thome a year ago. And certainly Sheffield’s history (a lifetime .297/.525/.398 hitter in over 9500 plate appearances) suggests that he should immediately become the defending AL champs’ best hitter. But they had to sign him to a 3-year deal through age 40, a risky proposition for a guy coming off a season nearly wiped out by injury and whose durability without the aid of performance-enhancing substances is questionable. It’s a calculated gamble, and an expensive one.