Baseball Notes

Ever-confident Sheffield game for a comeback

By Nick Cafardo
November 22, 2009

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The old-guy market may not be so hot this offseason, so Gary Sheffield is making sure he’s not one of the old guys shut out of the 2010 season.

Sheffield, 41, said he has dedicated himself to a grueling workout regimen featuring mixed martial arts and boxing exercises. And he hired a nutritionist who “watches every bite of food I take.’’ It’s all directed toward continuing his career.

“After talking to my wife and kids,’’ said Sheffield, “they want me to get 3,000 hits [he’s at 2,689]. I want to keep playing, and I know I can go out and hit at least 25 and maybe up to 40 home runs for some team if I get the chance.

“I think I showed when I played regularly I can still play and I can still hit for power. I’m a righthanded power hitter and I know there’s a need out there. Getting myself in this kind of shape will allow me to move better and not be a one-dimensional player.

“I’ve never worked so hard in the offseason as I have this one. I’m 100 percent dedicated to my training. When people tell me I can’t do something, I prove them wrong. Just like people thought I couldn’t play the outfield last year. I showed them I could. My shoulder came back last year so I can make the throws from the outfield.

“I feel I still have value.’’

Sheffield understands that teams will try to weed out older players to save money. Probably not all of the oldies will be around next season. In 2009, the game lost the likes of Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, and Dave Roberts, to name a few. We’ll see who continues and who finds the door closed this offseason.

Sheffield and Jim Thome can still hit and play. Vladimir Guerrero is another name teams will consider. There’s Jermaine Dye, Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, Jason Giambi, Garret Anderson, Kevin Millar, Mark Loretta, Mike Sweeney, all pretty good hitters at one time.

While he has been adamant about not being a DH - something that got him in a beef with manager Jim Leyland in Detroit - Sheffield has softened that stance. He said he would DH, but he’d also like to play the field a couple of times a week.

Sheffield is representing himself (he was formerly a Scott Boras client), though he said he has “friends’’ who will advise him. As of now, he hasn’t heard from anyone, but he realizes there may be a late-developing market for him once Matt Holliday and Jason Bay settle in somewhere.

There should be no shortage of teams that need a righthanded power bat. The Mets, who signed Sheffield last season after the Tigers released him, as well as the Mariners, Giants, Braves, Cardinals, Rays, Twins, Orioles, A’s, and Rangers are among the teams that could find some role for him.

“I’d love to see what I could do playing in a smaller ballpark,’’ he said, “but big ballparks don’t bother me at all. I didn’t let Citi Field bother me. Years ago, I was told not to sign with the Yankees because it was a big ballpark for a righthanded hitter, but I hit 34 and 36 home runs there. I still have my power and I can hit them out of anywhere.’’

Sheffield is a career .292 hitter, with a .393 on-base percentage and .903 OPS. His 509 homers rank 24th all-time, his 1,676 RBIs rank 25th. What he failed to do last season was come through as a pinch hitter, going 1 for 24 - though the one hit was his 500th homer. As a starter, he hit .300 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in 243 at-bats.

At this stage, Sheffield hasn’t thought about where he’d like to play, nor has he shut the door on a return to the Mets. He’s always wanted to play in Boston, where he felt he could do damage at Fenway Park. There are other ballparks Sheffield has destroyed over the years, none more than Minute Maid Park in Houston, where he has hit .537 with 8 homers and 17 RBIs in 41 at-bats.

Even at spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco, Sheffield has hit .366 with 6 homers and 19 RBIs in 101 at-bats. He’s hit .339 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs at Coors Field; and .307 with 7 homers and 29 RBIs at Fenway.

He’d love to go back to Atlanta, where he had two excellent seasons, including .330 with 39 homers and 132 RBIs in 2003. Or his hometown of Tampa Bay, where the Rays fumbled in signing Pat Burrell for the DH role.

“I’m real interested to see who calls and who doesn’t,’’ Sheffield said. “I’m real hungry for a chance to play again.’’

Who are top targets for Sox and Yankees?
What will the superpower Yankees and Red Sox pull off in the coming weeks?

John Lackey could be a key figure in both teams’ plans. If the Sox acquire him, it would allow them to package Clay Buchholz in a deal for Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera, if he becomes available. Buchholz is the chip most teams want in a megadeal.

Then the Sox would try to acquire another decent starter or a rehab guy like Ben Sheets as protection.

“The Red Sox could be the major player this offseason if certain things fall together for them,’’ said an American League general manager. “They still have enough chips in their farm system to make something big happen.

“They also have two other guys who could be valuable to other teams as major pieces in Casey Kotchman and Jed Lowrie. I know a lot of people were wondering why they got Kotchman because there was no real need for another first baseman. But this might be the reason.’’

The Yankees could offer a replica A.J. Burnett deal (five years, $80 million) for Lackey. They do not want to remain stagnant, but they operate in a certain way: They like to lie back, out of the line of fire, for a while and then get in when they absolutely have to (hello, Mark Teixeira). Knowing the Sox have interest in Lackey, they are surely capable of driving up the price.

The Yankees could easily get into the Roy Halladay hunt if they’re willing to part with Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, which they apparently are. The one player they’d love to hold on to is Austin Jackson, their future center fielder who could keep their outfield costs low.

What’s interesting about the Sox and Yankees is that they both have good catching prospects. The Sox feel Tim Federowicz and Luis Exposito will be major league catchers, while the Yankees feel Austin Romine (son of former Sox outfielder Kevin Romine) could be their future everyday catcher, while Jesus Montero is better offensively than defensively.

As attendance drops, some tickets follow
Ticket increases like the one the Sox recently announced were pretty rare around baseball, though some teams have yet to release 2010 prices. The Mets and A’s, in fact, announced 10 percent decreases. The Mets had the worst dropoff in attendance from 2008 (24 percent). Three other teams with big dropoffs - the Nationals (22 percent), Padres (22 percent), and Tigers (20 percent) - are either holding steady or reducing prices.

The Tigers will cut prices for 4,500 seats, though they are also paring their $140 million payroll, so the product could be inferior.

With baseball experiencing a 6.9 percent overall decrease in attendance, the Rays, Marlins (not yet official), Astros (for the second straight year), Pirates, Reds, and Indians are all holding at 2009 levels.

The Dodgers will have the same season-ticket and parking prices but have yet to decide on individual game tickets. The Yankees will keep 97 percent of their seat prices the same.

The Twins will have an increase in ticket prices, mostly because they’re going into a new stadium.

But the Blue Jays shocked some fans with a 56 percent increase with the rezoning of six sections. The Toronto Star reported that fan Mark Woizik saw his pair of season tickets rise from $3,823.92 to $5,964.84. The Jays said that more than 99 percent of their seats will remain the same price.

Apropos of nothing
1. New Indians manager Manny Acta has already announced Jake Westbrook as his Opening Day starter; 2. Interesting themes in the AL Central: The Indians are emphasizing a good start (for a change) while the White Sox are telling their pitchers to be in shape when camp opens; 3. Boy, do I love the Omar Vizquel move for the White Sox; 4. Who will rent Pudge Rodriguez in 2010? 5. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is doing a nice job bringing veteran baseball people like Davey Johnson (special assistant) into the operation.

Updates on nine
1. Dennis Gilbert, prospective Rangers owner - Tom Hicks, who has to sell the team because of financial woes, is organizing a group of local investors in an effort to remain majority owner. Is this best for the Rangers? Gilbert, who submitted a sealed bid Friday, is clearly better, a real baseball man who understands how teams work. Gilbert has been an agent and an adviser to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and his charitable work - for the RBI Program and the Scouts Foundation he started - has earned him great respect around the game. This one is a no-brainer.

2. J.D. Drew, RF, Red Sox - He had surgery on his left shoulder last week to help alleviate the inflammation he was experiencing in the second half of the season. He should be able to take part in spring training without missing any time.

3. Carl Pavano, RHP, free agent - According to agent Tom O’Connell, the action on Pavano right now is “very solid.’’ While Pavano may have to wait until John Lackey gets situated, teams in need of a No. 3 type starter may not wait. The Twins and Brewers are very interested.

4. John Smoltz, RHP, free agent - He apparently is very excited about what he’ll be able to do with a full offseason and spring training. Now the question is, on whose staff does he end up? The Cardinals still want him, but don’t rule out the pitching-hungry Brewers.

5. Mike Gonzalez, LHP, free agent - The Red Sox are one of at least a dozen teams in on Gonzalez, who has had arm and elbow issues. To this point, the Sox have not examined any medical records on Gonzalez or his righthanded counterpart on the Braves, Rafael Soriano.

6. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers - GM Doug Melvin is adamant that he will not entertain talk of trading Fielder, who can be a free agent after next season. Team owner Mark Attanasio seems inclined to pay Fielder top dollar to remain a Brewer.

7. Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox - Will his hip improve enough for him to play third regularly? The Sox don’t know at this point. Don’t be surprised if the subject of Lowell putting on a first baseman’s mitt comes up during spring training. It apparently has been discussed internally.

8. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cardinals - Carpenter, who led the NL in ERA (2.24), felt worse for teammate Adam Wainwright than himself when they were beaten out by Tim Lincecum for the NL Cy Young. It was a close and controversial vote, in which two voters left Carpenter off the ballot. Carpenter was 12-1 with a 2.19 ERA from July 5 to the end of the season. Not good enough? Even Lincecum thought Carpenter should have won.

9. Jason Kendall, C, free agent - The Brewers could still bring back Kendall, who caught 133 games for them, but for now the 14-year veteran with a .290 career average is done. This gives George Kottaras, claimed by Milwaukee on waivers, a great chance to stick as at least the backup to prospect Jonathan Lucroy, who would have to make the jump from Double A.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Since 2000, there have been 10 seasons in which a pitcher had 200 innings and walked under 30 batters. Free agent Joel Pineiro joined the control group this season, issuing 27 walks in 214 innings. David Wells is on the top of this group, having issued just 20 walks in 213 innings in 2003. Brad Radke appears on the list four times.’’ Also, “Similarities between Padres catcher (and possible free agent) Henry Blanco and Red Sox captain (and probable backup catcher) Jason Varitek: The 38-year-old Blanco in 67 games hit .235, had an OBP of .320 and an OPS of .703. Tek hit .209, had an OBP of .313 and an OPS of .703. The difference between the two? Tek threw out 16 of 124 base stealers for a 13 percent rate, while Blanco was 18 of 45 for a 40 percent rate.’’ . . . From the book shelf: “Wicked Good Year,’’ by Steve Buckley, has great stuff about the 2007 Sox. Also, Bill James’s annual “Baseball Handbook’’ always makes for captivating reading . . . Tickets are available for the 71st Boston Baseball Writers awards dinner Jan. 14 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel. Among the honorees are Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox Fireman of the Year), Nick Green (Jackie Jensen Award for hustle and determination), and the Twins’ Joe Mauer (Ted Williams Award as baseball’s leading hitter). Send a check for $135 per ticket ($150 after Dec. 1) to Boston Chapter, BBWAA, P.O. Box 7346, Nashua, N.H., 03060 . . . Happy birthday to Jay Payton (37) and Mike Benjamin (44).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at

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