Isn’t it great that the Tigers are players in MLB now? Dave Dombrowski just made the first big move of free agency by acquiring Gary Sheffield. I’ve thought all along that Sheffield would be a perfect fit for the Tigers. His On Base Percentage (OBP) is very good and his power numbers are even better. Now the Tigers can throw together a Gary Sheffield-Magglio Ordonez-Carlos Guillen trifecta that will scare even the best pitching staffs. When I first heard the news on Friday afternoon, I was ecstatic. I was without internet and I caught the tail-end of a channel 4 news tease about the Tigers acquiring Gary Sheffield. I called everyone I knew to find out who the Tigers gave up but couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I had heard a rumor about Wil Ledezma for Sheffield straight up. I was hoping that was the deal (nothing against Ledezma). On the way to dinner, I heard the particulars of the trade on the radio and my jaw hit the floor. I was shocked. Sheffield is a 38-year old injury prone DH who just recently had is option picked up by the Yankees for the sole purpose of trading him. It would be hard for a team to have any less leverage in trade talks.
Yet, the Tigers coughed up Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, and Anthony Claggett before the off-season was two weeks old. Most of the Tigers fans that are overjoyed with this trade don’t know a whole lot about the three prospects. While Sanchez had to be shutdown due to some arm concerns this season, he was one of the top prospects in all of baseball which includes starting the Futures Game. All season long, he was the primary trade bait for the Tigers. He was supposed to be the key to bringing in a difference maker. I just always thought the difference maker would have more than two or three years max left as a major leaguer. Kevin Whelan would have made a perfect 8th inning guy to team with Joel Zumaya. Anthony Claggett is the least known of the three but he was stellar this season in the minors. I really think Whelan will end up being a great late-inning pitcher.
I wasn’t involved in the trade discussions. I don’t know how many offers the Yankees got for Sheffield. But, I can’t imagine teams were throwing anything close to what the Tigers were putting out there considering how little the Yankees had in leverage. It is certainly true that Dombrowski built up the farm system with pitching so he could make trades like this one. That has been the goal all along. I am just concerned with cashing in three very talented prospects for a two or three year player. General Mangers in MLB are forced to balance the “win-now” mentality with the “plan for the future” mantra. It is not an easy task by any means. The Tigers needed to improve their offensive firepower and discipline and there is no question that Sheffield will do that. My question isn’t whether the Tigers got better—there is no question that they did. I just hate knowing that three years from now, the Tigers will have nothing from the trade and the Yankees will have Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, and Anthony Claggett. This seems like a trade that would have been more than good enough for a young first baseman like Mark Teixeira.
Twenty-four hours after the trade, I was much more comfortable with the move not because of what the Tigers gave up but because Sheffield is going to hurt teams next season. He immediately improves the patience of the offense. The Tigers will be able to work the count better which will lead to scoring more runs. I’m giddy at the thought of seeing the Tigers dominating pitching rotation teamed with an elite offense. Too many times last season the Tigers offense was stymied by good and bad pitchers alike. The Tigers got better with this trade which is what is most important.
One of the encouraging byproducts of this trade (other than the fact that the Tigers now have Gary Sheffield) is that the Tigers probably aren’t done. This is pure speculation but I highly doubt that the Tiger would strike this early in the off-season with a deal and remain dormant for the next five months. I believe that the swiftness in which this trade was done means the Tigers are going to add another player. I would not be surprised if they made a run at Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano or someone else to make this an even more impressive off-season. I don’t think they’ll make another trade although I could be wrong. The next prospects/players in line for a trade are likely to be Jair Jurrjens, Jordan Tata, and possibly Nate Robertson and Craig Monroe. If the Tigers make another trade, they’ll have to part with some, if not all, of those players. I just don’t see them skimming off the top of the prospect list after giving up three very good pitching prospects last week. Plus, one more excellent minor league campaign from Jurrjens will put his trade value at an all-time high. I also don’t see the Tigers wanting to give up players like Robertson and Monroe who almost certainly would not bring back fair value in trade. That’s why I think they’ll go after someone hard in free agency.
I am not convinced, though, that the Tigers are specifically targeting a first baseman. As most of you know, I have been a big advocate of Sean Casey. I suggested the Tigers should make a trade for him earlier in the season and was subsequently thrilled when a trade occurred. His regular season numbers weren’t great but if you watched every game like I did, you saw that he rarely struck out and consistently hit the ball harder than anyone on the team. It seemed like whenever he really got a hold of a ball, it went right to an outfielder. There is no question it was frustrating to see his batting average tank but it was obvious that he was putting together good at-bats. His performance in the World Series was nothing short of amazing. Casey is somewhere in the middle of what he did in the regular season and that stellar World Series display. The Tigers should definitely consider re-signing Casey if he comes at a reasonable price. There are at least 10 players in MLB that I’d rather have at first base than Casey but if none of those guys are available it would be silly to let Casey go. He is patient and he is a lefty. That is a tough combination to come by in MLB. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers end up keeping Casey. It would not be such a bad thing. Plus, it would mean the Tigers could go after Soriano or Lee without sacrificing the first base position.
As surprised as I was about what the Tigers had to give up to acquire Sheffield, I am thrilled that he is a Tiger. He is going to make a huge difference next season assuming he stays healthy. Immediately after the Tigers lost in the World Series, I was looking forward to the off-season festivities. Those festivities have gotten off to a great start. I’m just waiting for Dombrowski’s next move because I know it is coming sooner or later. This team is one great bat away from being vastly improved which is saying quite a bit for a team that just played in the World Series.