So there’s some debate over which team came out the better in the first big trade of the offseason. The Yankees sent Gary Sheffield to Detroit for three young pitching prospects (Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, and Anthony Claggett). Yankees fans feel that they should have gotten more for Sheff—”Gary Sheffield for prospects?!” they exclaim.
Meanwhile, the Tigers themselves are suffering from a bit of sticker shock. While Jim Leyland is ecstactic to be reunited with Sheffield, the Detroit team president admitted, “We gave up a lot…I winced.”
So who wins?
In my view, the Yankees came out ahead in this one. (Of course. Is anyone surprised when the Yankees come out the better for a roster move?) I know that New York fans love Sheff. Somehow, despite only being there for a couple of years, he attained coveted “real Yankee” status. However, I think that Yankee boosters who lament this move are letting their vision become clouded by sentiment. First of all, the Yankees didn’t have a spot for Gary in their lineup after they acquired Bobby Abreu. They have plenty of offense without Sheff’s bat. Moreover, Sheffield spent time on the DL this year with an injury to one of his famed wrists, and only played in 39 games. He’s still a feared hitter, but his body is in decline and he’s basically a dried-out husk of his former self. He’s just days away from his 38th birthday. The Yankees were wise to move him while they could still get something for him.
And what did they get for him? Pitching. And what is the one thing no team can ever have enough of? Pitching! Aha! Young pitching? Even better. Young, cheap pitching? Even more better! Sanchez is especially drool-worthy (let’s put it this way: he had more strikeouts than innings last season). And none of the kids involved in the trade had an ERA over 3. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar situation faced by the Red Sox earlier this year. At the trade deadline back in July, every player the Sox inquired about came with the same price tag attached: our three young pitchers, Papelbon, Lester, and Hansen. And the Sox, wisely in my view, said thanks but no thanks. Andruw Jones—almost a decade younger than Sheffield—for three hot young pitchers? No deal. (If there’s one lesson the Boston FO learned this year, it’s that you can never have too much pitching.)
But the Tigers have gone and made essentially the same move. Why would they do this? My feeling is that the Tigers had a deep, psychological need—a craving, an urge, whatever—for a big-name power hitter. The got all the way to the World Series this year, dammit, and they want to have World Series-caliber veterans on their team. But this is foolish. How did they get to the Series? By being young, and scrappy. And now they appear to be scrapping scrappy in favor of the same expensive, boring model that everyone else uses. Humbug.
There’s an argument to be made that no one knows how these young pitching prospects, all righties, will turn out. That’s the gamble you take with younguns. But the thing about Sheffield is, we already know how he turned out. He was good. Very good. For a long, long time. But sooner or later, old ballplayers just…..fade away.