The Mets were closing in on signing Gary Sheffield, likely today, with an eye on giving him significant playing time, according to two people involved in the talks.
"Unless something drastic happens, he is a Met," one of the sources said. "Someone would have to offer him a second year, and I just don't see that happening."
What is interesting from a Met perspective is that Sheffield's signing is as much about giving them protection in right field with Ryan Church as in left field with the inexperienced Daniel Murphy. There are factions of the club that are down on Church, wondering if he will ever hit lefties with any consistency or totally fulfill his promise.
The Mets dispatched two scouts to watch Sheffield in Tampa on Thursday, which was first reported by SI.com. But the element that the Mets were most interested in seeing was Sheffield throw. That is because they envision that he will be playing some right field, which is Church's position. One person briefed on that workout said the Mets were satisfied that Shefffield could throw well enough to be competitive. Sheffield has been slowed by shoulder issues in recent years.
The Mets also believe, according to one source, that even diminished that Sheffield remains a legitimate threat and still has good, long at-bats with a willingness to accept a walk.
Having seen that workout, the Mets intensified their efforts to beat out the Phillies and Reds to sign Sheffield, and they delivered a message to the veteran slugger that has apparently won his affections: "They told him if he plays well, he will play a lot," a Sheffield confidant said.
The Mets only have to pay Sheffield $400,000, the major league minimum. He was waived recently by the Tigers, who would owe him the remainder of that salary.
If the Mets sign Sheffield, Fernando Tatis probably will become more of a pinch-hitter and potentially play more as a reserve at first and third base than in the outfield.
If true, this is a perfectly beautiful example of a baseball executive weighting past accomplishments more than current performance. Sometimes you get the feeling that if Hank Aaron announced his comeback, teams would be lined up around the block to make an offer.
Sheffield and Tatis both are corner outfielders with obvious defensive limitations, the obvious differences being that Tatis is six years younger and can play a little third base (not that the Mets often need an extra third baseman). The not-so-obvious difference? Tatis figures as the better hitter in 2009.
Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster's got Tatis with a 797 OPS, Sheffield 747.
Marcel the Monkey's got Tatis at 801, Sheffield at 742.
FanGraphs has Tatis at 758, Sheffield at 734.
Granted, the Bill James Handbook has Tatis at 759, Sheffield at 785. So everybody doesn't think Tatis is, right now, the better hitter. And when you factor in the boost Sheffield would get from going from the American League to the National League, whatever gap between them does close a bit.
Objectively speaking, though, there's simply no reason to shake up your roster by adding an old, often-gimpy player who duplicates skills you've already got. And if Gary Sheffield's name was Joe Shlabotnik, the Mets wouldn't even think about doing it.