Is The Best Off-Season Pick-Up Playing In Queens?

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Is The Best Off-Season Pick-Up Playing In Queens?
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

It's been a pretty rough season for Mets fans so far in 2009.

Whether it's Oliver Perez not living up to his new huge contract, the seemingly endless trips to the disabled list, or just the overall inconsistent play on the field, 2009 has yet to live up to the expectations of most Mets fans.

Come to think of it, the Mets haven't lived up to expectations since Johan Santana's three-hit shutout of the Florida Marlins on the next-to-last game of the season.

We all know the story. Johan's brilliance was followed by an absolute stinker, resulting in a second straight loss on the last day of the season, a second straight September collapse, and a second straight season with no October baseball.

Then there was the offseason.

After pleasing the Queens faithfull by going out and revamping the bullpen, adding Francisco Rodriguez, JJ Putz and Shawn Green, Omar Minaya and Fred Wilpon waited for the perfect deal.

They waited, and waited, and waited some more. Only this offseason, there would be no Johan Santana-type deal falling into their laps.

The front office's patience brought the ire of Mets fans.

As the Grapefruit League season progressed, New York sports radio was flooded with calls wondering and suggesting what the Mets moves should be. There were your supporters for Manny Ramirez to be rooming the outfield at the new Citifield. Then there were the people who wanted Orlando Hudson to replace Luis Castillo at second base. There were calls for Adam Dunn, Pudge Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez, Pat Burrell and AJ Burnett.

Basically, if a player was available, there was a Mets fan out there who wanted him.

Mets fans would sit back and watch all those players sign with other teams, while Mets brass continued to try to sell us things like the Daniel Murphy/Fernando Tatis platoon.

So it seemed the Mets would do nothing else to improve their team, that is until about a week before the start of the regular season.

That's when the Mets signed Gary Sheffield to the veteran's minimum salary.

That's right, Gary Sheffield...40-year-old Gary Sheffield. The same Gary Sheffield who once admitted to purposely making errors in the field so the Brewers would trade him. The same Gary Sheffield that would accuse Joe Torre of being a racist. The same Gary Sheffield that had worn out his welcome in almost every city he had played in.

Oh yeah, and it's the same Gary Sheffield who the Detroit Tigers had just released, eating approximately $14 million because they were convinced he was a washed up player who, at best, was a DH.

Sure it was no Manny Ramirez, but for $400,000 it was worth the risk. At the very least, the Mets envisioned Sheffield as a bat with pop off the bench, and another veteran leader in the clubhouse.

Nobody, not even Sheffield himself, would have imagined that, as of mid-June, he would not only prove to be the Mets most important player, but maybe the best pick up of the off season.

Sure Sheffield is not anchoring a pitching staff like CC Sabathia, having a career year for team trying to repeat as world champions like Raul Ibanez, or finishing his stellar career with his original team like Ken Griffey, Jr., but he's been just what the Mets have needed.

Think about it for a second and it makes sense. Where would the Mets be without him ?

His numbers aren't bad, .275 batting average and 25 RBI in 57 games played. Sheffield has also hit eight home runs, tied for the most on the team with Carlos Beltran, except Sheffield has done it in 96 fewer at bats.

The numbers are there, but to measure Sheffield's contribution in numbers alone is not doing him justice.

Sheffield has played both corner outfield positions in 2009. He has been better in the field (and at the plate) in left than Daniel Murphy, and more productive with the bat than opening day right fielder Ryan Church. When clean-up hitter Carlos Delgado went on the disabled list with a hip injury that may cost him the season, Sheffield stepped into the fourth slot in the order and barely missed a beat.

Sheffield has played whenever and wherever he has been asked to play, even at DH. He's played hurt and still hustled on every play (even running out ground balls and sliding into bases hard against the Yankees even with his team down by 13 runs).

But maybe most importantly, Sheffield has displayed a leadership and toughness that the Mets have seemed to lack the past couple of seasons. They have been competitive, even against the likes of the Yankees and Phillies, at a time when most teams would have used the injury excuse to go through the motions and start preparing for next season. That's Sheffield's persona, and it's starting to become the Mets persona.

So maybe this offseason didn't bring the hope or glamour that last season's did. So the Mets didn't get a big name pitcher, or sweet swinging, slick fielding, switch hitting first bagger, or a guy who is having the best season of his career.

All they got was Gary Sheffield.

So far, however, they got just what they needed.

 

 

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