Sheff prepared for Boss to lean on him

Updated: December 17, 2003, 7:41 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Gary Sheffield already is bracing for it.

The first time he goes into a slump, he knows, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner will criticize him in the newspapers and on the airwaves.

Fantasy Focus
With Gary Sheffield, we're talking about degrees of fantasy greatness. Sheffield hit at least .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI in five of the last eight seasons, so the only real debate is where he fits in the first three rounds of a fantasy draft now that he's a member of the Yankees. And anything earlier than the start of the third round is risky.

Barring a sudden penchant for hitting left-handed, Sheffield isn't going to get much of a statistical boost from playing in Yankee Stadium. In fact, the deep alley in left-center could cost Sheffield a few home runs. And considering the Braves scored 30 more runs than the Yankees did in 2003, batting in the middle of the Yankees lineup doesn't enhance Sheffield's value to the degree it would for the majority of sluggers. Throw in Sheffield's age and injury-riddled past -- although he averaged 145 games the last five seasons -- and there isn't much growth potential.
-- Graham Hays

"That's part of it. He already told me that's going to happen," Sheffield said Wednesday after finalizing his $39 million, three-year contract with the Yankees.

"I don't think he can say anything bad to me that I haven't said to myself," Sheffield said.

Sheffield's deal, which includes $13.5 million in deferred money and a $13 million team option for 2007, took weeks to complete after the outfielder and Steinbrenner agreed to the basics. In the end, Sheffield dropped his demand to eliminate the deferred money.

He'll be the Yankees' new right fielder. That position was manned by several players last season for New York.

Sheffield, 35, hit .330 for the Atlanta Braves last season, with 39 homers and a career-high 132 RBI. The seven-time All-Star broke into the majors in 1988 with the Milwaukee Brewers, and he also has played for the Padres, Marlins and Dodgers.

Yankees manager Joe Torre thinks that Boston's acquisitions of starter Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke have made the AL East a tossup. The Yankees have won the division for six straight seasons.

"They certainly have caught up, at the least, because of the pitching moves," Torre said.

Gary Sheffield
The Yankees brought in plenty of talent this offseason.

The signing of Sheffield was another step in the Yankees' offseason overhaul that might see Bernie Williams shifting to designated hitter.

With the Yankees' recent addition of free-agent center fielder Kenny Lofton, Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui already in left, that means there could be no room in the outfield for Williams, a regular in center since 1993 but slowing down at age 35.

"He's aware that he has a possibility of being our DH," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Tuesday. "Bernie is a professional. If that's the way it goes, he looks forward to the challenge of competing with anybody we choose to bring in -- if we choose to bring them in. He's a consummate team player."

Williams is a four-time Gold Glove in the outfield, but his arm has weakened considerably in recent years. His range decreased once he returned from surgery on his left knee in May.

When the Yankees open the season in March, many of their starters will be older than 30, a group that includes catcher Jorge Posada (32), first baseman Jason Giambi (33), third baseman Aaron Boone (31), and Lofton (36) and Sheffield (35) in the outfield. Shortstop Derek Jeter and Matsui turn 30 in June, leaving Alfonso Soriano (who will be 26) as the only regular under 30.

New York did make a move for youth Tuesday when it completed its trade with Montreal for Javier Vazquez, a 27-year-old right-hander. Vazquez was 13-12 with a 3.24 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 230 2/3 innings last season.

First baseman Nick Johnson, who returned from vacation in Europe and passed his physical to finalize the Dec. 4 deal, goes to Montreal along with Rivera and left-hander Randy Choate.

New York's projected starting rotation now includes Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Vazquez and Jose Contreras. David Wells, who is close to agreement on a minor league contract, and Jon Lieber, recovering from elbow surgery, are expected to compete for the fifth spot.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press