Why the Tigers keep playing Sheffield
There are 20 million reasons why Gary Sheffield is still in the Tigers lineup most nights while either rookie Matt Joyce or Marcus Thames sits.
It is Baseball Economics 101.
Yes, through Sunday, Sheffield was batting a meager .218, 78 points below his career average, with eight home runs and 26 RBI through 65 games.
Meanwhile, Joyce, the rookie, had a .275, average, 10 HRs and 25 RBI _ in just 40 games.
Thames had a .262 average, a team-leading 20 HRs and 43 RBI.
But, more importantly, Sheffield -- tied with Chicagos Jim Thome as the second highest-paid designated hitter in baseball history behind the Yankees Jason Giambi ($21 million) -- is making $14 million this season and has another guaranteed $14 million coming his way next year.
To pull the plug now, would cost the Tigers about $20 million. That would not be an easy bullet to bite, even for an owner as willing to throw money around as Mike Ilitch has been.
But to keep playing Sheffield instead of Joyce or Thames could cost the Tigers whatever chance they still have of making the playoffs.
The Tigers see Sheffields still-vicious swing and his occasional home runs and wicked line drives -- and they keeping hoping.
With 488 home runs to his credit, Sheffield is just 12 short of 500 -- a statistic that may matter far more to Sheffield than he is willing to admit.
It is a figure that would make Sheffield a lock for the Hall of Fame -- something else he may covet more than he lets on.
Gary Sheffield, at anywhere near his 39-year-old best, could be a far bigger help down the stretch than any of the alternatives.
But, after all of his injuries and surgeries and 20 years in the big leagues, there is no guarantee that the Gary Sheffield the Tigers remember still exists.