The more I think about it, the less I understand the motivation for tweaking Church the way the Mets have. When they acquired him from Washington, the Mets thought they got lucky, finding a talented defender with perhaps the best arm of a right fielder this side of Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur. They thought he would thrive playing his home games in a smaller ballpark, and that his 2007 struggles against left-handed pitching (.229) were an aberration. A career .256 hitter against lefties, Church batted .264 with four homers off them in 2008.
Church had two hits and stole a base Monday while also making an outstanding defensive play that, I suspect, the Mets realize that Sheffield almost certainly wouldn't have made. Manuel acknowledged Church's defense after the game, but in the very next sentence mentioned that Church could play center field, too, as if he was planning on using him more like a utility outfielder.
Manuel said the spacious outfield, quirky angles and limited foul territory at Citi Field would make him align his outfielders differently, bunching them toward the gaps. But he also said that he is afraid of Beltran's "weighing 145 pounds" by the end of the season from all the running he'll have to do. Surrounding him with Murphy and Sheffield could make for some, umm, interesting moments out there.
On Friday Manuel explained why he expected Sheffield to be an asset. And to me, it makes sense: adding someone with swagger and right-handed power for the relatively paltry cost of $400,000 creates the perfect low-risk, high-reward situation. Manuel's reasoning here makes sense, too:
"What this does for us is really create some depth in the team," Manuel said. "I believe that in the course of 162 regular-season games, depth is the one thing that is normally overlooked. So if you have on your bench quality players and you have players that are versatile, you can get enough at-bats to sustain them in their performance. In other words, you can rest guys and be comfortable that you can still have a chance that particular day in winning a ballgame because you have other people to replace them."
The challenge for Manuel going forward will be deciding who to rest and when to rest him. Where Church fits into that plan remains to be seen.
It's easy to get worked up on this stuff in March and April, in fact it's my stock-in-trade during those months. But talent usually wins. Ryan Church, if he's recovered from his concussion of last year, is the Mets' second-best outfielder (even if he can't match Sheffield's swagger). Eventually -- and probably sooner rather than later -- Jerry Manuel and everyone else will figure that out (if they haven't already).