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My Compliments to the Sheff

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I had some 500 words written, talking about potential suitors for Gary Sheffield. And then the Tigers pulled off a trade this afternoon and rendered that entire article moot. So let's change directions and break down the deal. Then we can talk about alternatives for other teams searching for corner outfield help.

The Yankees made out pretty well in the deal. The best player they got was Humberto Sanchez, who redefines the idea of a "big boy". Listed height and weight? 6'6", 230 lbs. I think he's heavier than that. Still, he struck out 129 batters in 123 innings split between the AA Eastern and AAA International Leagues. He instantly becomes the Bombers' second best pitching prospect. He does have a history of minor injuries that bring into question his durability. Some of those were unrelated to his arm (oblique, groin) while others were merely soreness and swelling in his elbow. Personally I wonder if conditioning played a part in the non-arm related injuries. The elbow problems could be normal, or they could indicate problems down the road. He has good, but not great stuff, with a low 90's fastball that could pick up some velocity with a move to the bullpen. His breaking stuff is usable, but not a huge asset. I don't know if this is a sample size fluke or not, but he was much more effective against lefties than righties.

Kevin Whelan is pretty decent as reliever prospects go. That might be a classic example of damning with faint praise. He has very good stuff out of the pen, regularly working in the mid 90's with a very tough slider to go with it. He was converted from catcher in college and that probably means that his arm has fewer miles on it than one would expect.

Anthony Claggett is the third prospect in the deal and he's not as promising. He put up more than solid numbers in the Midwest League this season (0.91 ERA, 58 K, 20 BB, 59 IP) but he was older than the league as he was 22 for much of the season. He's a nice flier to take.

The Yankees needed (and still need) pitching depth at the Major League and Minor League levels. They have an aging and increasingly fragile pitching staff. Their bullpens have been one or two man shows for years now. They need some guys who can step up when the Randy Johnsons of the world get old and/or get hurt. I like this approach. If I were the one doing the asking, I probably would have looked for often overlooked Wil Ledezma. I guess it's hard to look a gift horse in the mouth though. This was something the Yanks needed.

On the Tigers side of things, they also got something they needed, but at a higher cost than what I care for. It's not really the prospects they gave up. They can afford to replace pitching prospects. My biggest objection is that they evidently have agreed to hand Sheffield a 2 year contract extension, which would lock him up through his age 40 season. This is one of those deals that should pay dividends this season, but might be costly down the road as Sheffield becomes an albatross. On the positive side, Sheffield, even as a 38 year old should out-hit Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames. On the other hand, he does little to help the fact that the Detroit lineup is pretty heavy on righties as you can assume that Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez, Polanco, Brandon Inge, and the survivor of the Thames/Monroe fight to the death will also be fixtures in the lineup and all are right handed as well. Another thing to watch for is to see if they happen to notice that they need a better firstbaseman than Sean Casey.

Now teams that missed out on Sheff will look to alternatives in the free agent market. Who do you have left? Barry Bonds is the best bat left, but he'll be 42 next season and really should be a full time DH. Before the Sheffield deal, I really thought that Bonds was a perfect fit for the Tigers, as they need some OBP, preferably from the DH spot. Being able to play the field wasn't terribly important since both Monroe and Thames can cover left more than capably.

You also have Pat Burrell on the trade market. Philly fans have an irrational hatred for Pat the Bat, but he's a very capable ML hitter. It's just that he's not worth 13 and 14 million over the next two years respectively. Then there's Alfonzo Soriano, who will no doubt get a massive contract that some unlucky team will live to regret. And Carlos Lee, who likewise will get more money than what is advisable. Finally, JD Drew opted out of his deal, so he's back on the market a couple years after getting what everybody (including me) thought would be a bad deal for the Dodgers. It turned out to be a pretty good deal all things considered. I can't help but think that the Red Sox will try to get one or more of these guys. My money's on Drew going there. The Angels are a potential destination for Bonds and Lee, as both would fill a gaping hole at DH. Meanwhile, Burrell could be interesting in San Francisco, or in Minnesota, provided the Phillies picked up a little of the tab. I personally think that Minnesota should look to add a short term outfielder/DH to rotate between LF and DH with Jason Kubel. The Twins need righty pop in their lineup following Mauer and Morneau.

So that's the kickoff of this Hot Stove League season. Let the games begin.