Sheffield could play field after road trip

Updated: April 5, 2009, 7:53 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Jimmy Rollins was recruiting Gary Sheffield. Dusty Baker, too. But when New York Mets star David Wright reached out to the nine-time All-Star, he apparently sealed the deal.

Sheffield was introduced at Citi Field on Saturday, one day after reaching a contract agreement with the Mets and four days after he was released by the Detroit Tigers.

Sheffield
Sheffield

"When you have the face of the franchise making a call to you, that means a lot," said Sheffield, who's one home run shy of 500. "You never want to tell other people you're going the other way, but when he made that call I made my decision."

Sheffield said he was considering the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies, where his good friend Rollins plays shortstop, and Baker's up-and-coming Cincinnati Reds. The defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays were also among the teams in the mix.

"I had the opportunity to exchange some text messages with him yesterday and he's excited to be here, and I think these guys are very excited to have him," Wright said Saturday. "From everything I hear, from the few encounters that I've had with him over the last few years, he has a presence about him, a swagger about him, and I think that kind of confidence will rub off on the clubhouse."

Along with the recruiting pitch from Wright, Sheffield said the allure of returning to New York -- where he played for the Yankees from 2004-06 -- was a big drawing card.

His uncle, Dwight Gooden, was a star pitcher for the Mets in the 1980s and '90s and encouraged him several times over the years to sign with the Mets. Sheffield nearly did on multiple occasions, but it never quite worked out that he would call Shea Stadium home.

Now, with the old ballpark torn down, he'll get a chance to play in spiffy new Citi Field.

"I never thought it would happen," Sheffield said, "but when the opportunity came to be here with the Mets, I decided to fulfill my dream."

Slowed by shoulder injuries and other problems last season, Sheffield hit just .225 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs. He hit .178 with five homers in 45 spring training at-bats this year, but the Mets are taking a relatively low-cost gamble that he'll revert to form.

The Tigers will pay $13.6 million of his $14 million contract while the Mets get him for the major league minimum of $400,000.

"I know I have a chance to win a championship here," Sheffield said.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel said there is plenty of time for Sheffield to get into playing shape, and although it's possible he could pinch hit this week, he probably won't play in the field until after a six-game road trip that begins the season.

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"It's basically going to be like spring training-outfield work," Manuel said. "Then we'll get into the extra hitting and those types of things, the running.

"It doesn't matter who you are and what you've done, you still have to do some things to show you're ready."

Manuel said he hasn't thought much about where and how often Sheffield will play.

The Mets were presumably set with Carlos Beltran in center field, Daniel Murphy in left and Ryan Church in right. But both Murphy and Church are left-handed hitters, and Sheffield's right-handed power bat could help balance the lineup.

"Once we get going, performance begins to dictate whether you play or not," Manuel said. "You have to perform in order to play, and I think he understands that."

Sheffield has spent most of the past two seasons in Detroit as the designated hitter, but often played right field with the Yankees and Braves. He's played just 13 times in left field since 2001.

That could mean Sheffield splits time in right with Church, who spent much of last season on the disabled list dealing with the aftereffects of concussions.

Church, who Manuel praised for his fielding versatility, said he'd shag fly balls in center and left fields so that he could be ready to play elsewhere if necessary. He split time in both of those spots in 2007, when he was a member of the Washington Nationals.

"Early on in the big leagues I showed I could play all of the outfield spots, and I feel pretty good there," Church said. "I'll do whatever. Whatever gets me in the lineup, I don't care."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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