(Captain Jeter measures the real Yankee Leader’s skull for a bigger crown last night in Toronto)
Predictably, Yankees OF Gary Sheffield is claiming the remarks attributed to him in an upcoming issue of New York Magazine were taken out of context, accusing the reporter of “setting him up”. It could be worse. At least no one tried to steal Gary’s personal chef.
Let’s keep in mind that all of this is merely a warm-up for what could be the mother of all baseball contract disputes. Reading between the lines of what Sheffield told New York magazine, the source of his discontent is money. Sheffield is right in what he was really trying to say: He is the most feared hitter in the Yankees’ lineup, a guy with a high-velocity bat, a fearlessness of pitchers — especially those who try to throw inside — and an ability to crush any fastball. Sheffield is an amazing hitter, and he’s batting .400 with runners in scoring position. There’s no question that among all the Yankees’ hitters, he is the guy that opposing pitchers would hate to meet in a dark-alley moment on the mound, the game on the line and Sheffield coming at them from 60 feet and 6 inches.
But Sheffield also makes $13 million, or a little more than what A-Rod’s making, and only about 70 percent of what Jeter’s making. Next season will be the last year of Sheffield’s contract, and he always likes to be taken care of. You can bet that sometime this winter — maybe sooner — he will begin clamoring for an extension, talking again about a perceived lack of respect. He has used the tactic of complaining about money through the media time and again during his career, and he will use it again. Here’s the thing, though: He’ll be 38 at the time his current deal expires, and at a time when the Yankees finally have started to see some light at the end of the tunnel of their financial hell. They’ve been loaded with high-priced deals for older players in recent years, but they’ll shed Bernie Williams and Kevin Brown after this year, and Mike Mussina will probably go from a $15 million a year pitcher (on average) in 2006 to something less than that in 2007, after he negotiates a new deal. The Yankees will not be inclined to give Sheffield the $15 million-plus type of contract he’s going to want.
So it’ll get ugly. Sheffield will talk and talk, the Yankees won’t budge, and the New York-area media members (like myself) will pick the situation apart down to the bone. It promises to be baseball’s version of the Terrell Owens mess.