February 20, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Standing Up to a Bully
Dodgers left fielder Gary Sheffield has demanded that the team trade him, citing a lack of appreciation by the team. It's not just any trade demand: Sheffield has indicated that he wants to be traded to either New York team of the Atlanta Braves, and that he does not plan to report to spring training with the Dodgers.
It's fair to say that the people who write for Baseball Prospectus tend to be pro-players in the labor/management wranglings. Whether that's because it's the right side of the argument or just as a reaction to the generally pro-management coverage in the mainstream media is up for debate. So those of you who have read us for a while may find the following a bit misplaced.
Gary Sheffield needs to be slapped repeatedly upside the head, preferably with a blunt object.
This isn't about respect: it's a blatant money grab. Sheffield would have been perfectly happy to stay in Los Angeles if the team had acceded to his request--with three years remaining on his current deal--for a four-year contract extension. The Dodgers wisely decided that tying up a DH, even a very good one, for $15 million a year through age 38 wasn't a wise move, and declined. Cue trade demand.
Sheffield is no dummy, either. Just like Roger Clemens did after the 1998 season, Sheffield knows that being traded would activate the rule that allows a player dealt during a multi-year contract to demand a trade after the season and, if not placated, become a free agent. The rule is in place to prevent a player who signs a long-term deal from being sent somewhere he never intended to be. What Clemens did, what Sheffield is trying to do and the way in which Ken Griffey exploited his 10-and-5 rights last winter are all misuses of rights that the players fought long and hard to get for the correct reasons.
To hell with that. Kevin Malone, here's your press release:
"Mr. Sheffield has a contract that pays him $9.5 million in 2001 to play baseball, and right now, we're his employer. We'll explore trade options, but since his ill-timed demand and quite specific requirements have taken away all our trade leverage, it's unlikely he'll be dealt.
Of course, this probably won't happen. The same aversion to risk that makes front offices spend money on Ricky Bottalico and Ron Coomer will keep the Dodgers from pushing the issue. It would be nice to see a team show the same stomach for a fight with an All-Star that they like to show when a second-year man comes into camp with no leverage but a great season behind him and asks for a raise to the league median.
This is one of those rare times when an MLB management team is on the right side of the argument. Let's see if the Dodgers take advantage of that fact.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.