The Tigers decided they were better off without Gary Sheffield.
Could the two best teams in the National League East both believe they'd be better off with him?
The answer is yes, because major-league sources said both the Mets and Phillies have serious interest in signing Sheffield, who the Tigers released with $14 million remaining on his contract. The third team known to have interest is the Reds.
The Mets see Sheffield as a part-time player, but one who could be a more imposing presence off the bench than Fernando Tatis. General manager Omar Minaya has always liked big names, and Mets officials believe that the 40-year-old Sheffield has something left in his bat, to go along with his name. Sheffield can't be that big bat all the time (his .225 average last year and .178 average this spring are evidence enough of that), but the Mets believe there's a chance he could thrive in a part-time role. For now, the Mets starting corner outfielders are Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church, and Tatis is the main option off the bench.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have been searching for a right-handed all spring. Sheffield represents a better option off the bench than Miguel Cairo, whose roster spot he would likely take. And while the Tigers determined that Sheffield can no longer play the outfield, the Phillies figure that they won a World Series with Pat Burrell in left field, and that Sheffield couldn't be much worse than that.
The Mets also believe that Sheffield is healthy enough to see some time in the outfield. Last year, Sheffield played just six games in the outfield, all in a short stretch in early May.
Sheffield, who was primarily a designated hitter in his two years with the Tigers, has never had many pinch-hit opportunities. According to baseball-reference.com, Sheffield has only 34 pinch-hit plate appearances in his entire 21-year career. The Tigers used him as a pinch hitter just four times in the last two seasons, and he pinch-hit just twice in three seasons with the Yankees before that.
One important factor for the Mets and Phillies is that they would be getting Sheffield without any long-term commitment. They would have to pay him just the prorated $400,000 major-league minimum for the number of days he spent on their roster. If they later determined that he can't play, or if he complained too much about not getting enough playing time, they could release him without owing him any more money.