Sheffield in Philly?

Well, it didn’t take long for Gary Sheffield rumors to start flaring up. The Philadelphia Phillies just released outfielder Geoff Jenkins and GM Ruben Amaro confirmed that they have spoken to Sheffield’s agent. Sheffield has already said that his preference would be for an east coast contender, and the Phillies fit the profile on both marks. However, there’s one thing the Phillies can’t give Gary Sheffield – a DH spot.

Gary Sheffield played 47 innings in the outfield last year. He played 106 innings in the outfield in in 2007. He played 165 innings in the outfield in 2006. Over the last three years, he’s worn a glove for 318 innings, or about 25% of one season.

The idea that a 40-year-old Gary Sheffield is still capable of playing the outfield regularly without breaking down is pretty wacky. If the Phillies sign him, he’ll be listed as an outfielder on the roster, but in reality, he’d be a right-handed pinch hitter. Now, he’s not a bad right-handed pinch hitter, and in the National League, that’s a role that could have some value. But, given the construction of the Phillies roster, I have to wonder how this would all work.

As it stands, the Phillies have Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez filling the outfield, with Matt Stairs as the fourth outfielder. Maybe I should put quotes around that last word, because Stairs is 41 years old and not really capable of running after fly balls anymore. In the last three years, Stairs has amassed 515 innings in the outfield… and posted a -30.0 UZR/150. Negative Thirty. Given his age and body shape, we shouldn’t really be surprised that Stairs is a cover-your-eyes defender, but he’s not exactly anyone’s definition of a classic fourth outfielder.

Now, if you add Sheffield to the roster, you essentially are going with an outfield of Victorino, Werth, and three guys who belong at DH. You could put Ibanez, Stairs, and Sheffield side by side in left field and still have a below average defense out there. And Ibanez, at 37, is the spring chicken of the bunch. What do you do in late game situations when you have the lead – you won’t be using Stairs or Sheffield as a defensive replacement for Ibanez, that’s for sure.

Worse, what do you do if Werth or Victorino get banged up? Now you’re starting Ibanez and Stairs or Sheffield in the outfield corners. That’s… it’s hard to imagine a team chasing a World Series title would leave themselves with those kinds of options. And we’re not talking about long shot reserves who won’t see the light of day, here – Werth and Victorino aren’t exactly the new age Cal Ripken.

Given that Ibanez is starting in one outfield spot and the fourth OF spot is filled with a guy who shouldn’t ever wear a glove, it would seem to be that the Phillies are more in need of a legitimate defensive player than another pinch-hitter. Sheffield could still make sense for the Phillies, if he’d agree to a reduced role and they’d kick Miguel Cairo to the curb to make room for him, but if he’s actually going to fill the spot vacated by Jenkins and masquerade as an outfielder, I feel really bad for the Phillies pitching staff.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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