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Sheffield, Dodgers square off
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
Much of this spring's discontent for Gary Sheffield stems from misconceptions, or what the Dodgers believe are misconceptions.
Sheffield heard the Dodgers shopped him at the winter meetings so they could sign Alex Rodriguez. The Dodgers and Scott Boras have both said that L.A. was never in the sweepstakes, and clubs like the Indians that were interested were told he wasn't available. Sheffield feels that while he has taken on a mantle of leadership, the club should pass that respect back, and he suggested some sort of lifetime contract in the last two weeks. But with no accord met what with four more years left on the deal he renegotiated when he went to the Dodgers. in 1998 it has became a showdown between the two sides, one in which the Dodgers claim they will not blink.
Not now, anyway.
Sheffield said Monday he wanted a new deal or a trade to the Yankees, Mets or Braves. While Dodgers rookie manager Jim Tracy and the full squad take the field for the first time Tuesday, Sheffield is not expected to be in Vero Beach. However, as general manager Kevin Malone talked to clubs Monday, he made it clear that he wants a comparable right-handed bat. He asked the Mets for Mike Piazza, then suggested a deal involving Sheffield and Mark Grudzielanek for Edgardo Alfonzo. Steve Phillips: nyet.
Would David Justice and Alfonso Soriano for Sheffield and Terry Adams make sense? "We're more interested in a right-handed bat," says Malone. He talked to the Braves and made it clear Javy Lopez would do; Brian Jordan, despite glowing reports out of Disney, would not.
Malone denies that there is a 72-hour window to move Sheffield, and says this could go on for awhile, whether Sheffield comes to camp or not.
"My hope is that he'll come here, sit down with us and reach some understanding of what's really gone on," Malone says. "But our feeling is that we will go on, with or without him. Fortunately, the three teams he mentioned are all interested, but there could be 19 clubs with whom we can work before the opening of the season.
"But this is a misunderstanding. If we knew he felt this way back in November or December, we had several teams interested and could have made a heck of a deal. If we'd have known that, we might have been interested in A-Rod. But we told them we weren't interested in trading Gary. We still don't want to trade him, but we'll have to see what happens."
Sheffield has matured into a great hitter, and the edge he brings to a team is a form of leadership. He hasn't had any hint of personal problems for years. "He works hard, he plays hard and he brings a lot to every at-bat, from taking pitches to giving himself up to getting an RBI when necessary," says Rick Down, the Red Sox' hitting coach who was with Sheffield in L.A. last season.
The Dodgers claim they had a marketing campaign built around him, with posters and billboards and television commercials. There had been a discussion of making him team captain.
To the Braves, Mets or Yankees, he is a monster piece. But as long as the Dodgers stick to their price and Sheffield sticks to his stance, this is going to be a standoff.
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