Originally created 02/21/01

Braves interested in Sheffield



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Standing with his arms folded, Brian Jordan watched an ESPN report Tuesday morning detailing Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield's trade demand.

Though he remained silent, it was easy to read Jordan's mind. If Sheffield becomes an Atlanta Brave, it probably means Jordan will be wearing another uniform this season.

Sheffield has refused to report to the Dodgers camp at Vero Beach and has demanded a trade to the Yankees, Mets or Braves because the Dodgers have refused to extend the six-year, $61-million contract he signed in 1997.

Sheffield's sudden availability has the Braves interested, though they are reluctant to part with catcher Javy Lopez to acquire the disgruntled outfielder. But, if a poll were taken inside the clubhouse, there likely wouldn't be a player voting against acquiring Sheffield, who hit .325 with 43 home runs and 109 RBI last season.

"He's the whole package," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "He's a rare combination of a power guy who hits for average and will take a lot of walks."

Said catcher Eddie Perez, "I'd like to see him here. He's one of the best hitters in the league. You don't want him hitting against you. You want him hitting on your team."

The Mets have refused to swap All-Star catcher Mike Piazza or second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo for Sheffield,and the Yankees reportedly don't have room on their payroll for Sheffield's salary. That clears a path for the Braves, but that doesn't guarantee the two clubs can put together a deal.

Sheffield, 32, said Tuesday that if he were traded to the Braves, he would drop his demand for a contract extension.

"That's someplace I would want to be," he said. "You have to admire the Braves organization and what those guys have accomplished. You don't do what they've done in this game unless you know what you're doing."

Sheffield also said the Braves are appealing because manager Bobby Cox has a reputation as a player's manager.

"Bobby Cox is the type of manager you want to play for," Sheffield said. "I've talked to guys over there and he knows how to handle veterans. He lets you do your job."

The last time Braves general manager John Schuerholz and Dodgers GM Kevin Malone combined on a deal, Malone was the Expos GM and Schuerholz stole Marquis Grissom from him. It was just before the start of the 1995 season when Schuerholz sent outfielders Roberto Kelly and Tony Tarasco, pitcher Esteban Yan and cash north for Grissom, who was instrumental in the Braves winning the World Series that season.

Asked Tuesday of his interest in Sheffield, Schuerholz said, "I can't talk about it. That's tampering."

Would the Braves trade Lopez for Sheffield? The first stumbling block to a deal is the most obvious one. Not only would the Braves remove Lopez's bat from their lineup, but they also would be without a No. 1 catcher. A platoon of Eddie Perez and Paul Bako would be adequate defensively, but offensively the pair can't match Lopez's production.

While Sheffield would more than make up for Lopez's bat, the Braves also would have to deal Jordan or B.J. Surhoff to create room for the outfielder. Schuerholz attempted to trade Jordan this winter, but couldn't find any takers for an outfielder who had both shoulders operated on after last season and is owed $26 million on a five-year, $40 million deal he signed in 1998.

Also, with other teams knowing the Braves must trade either Jordan or Surhoff, it would be impossible for them to receive fair value in return. Thus, in effect, Sheffield would be swapped for Lopez and either Surhoff or Jordan.

Schuerholz said the early part of spring training is normally used by clubs to evaluate their personnel. The situation involving Sheffield will speed up that process, though Schuerholz didn't see that as a stumbling block.

"I have made a number of deals that others initiated," he said. "This is very, very early in the process to be doing anything like that, but I keep myself open."

The best scenario from the Braves' perspective is to convince the Dodgers to take a package of Jordan/Surhoff and a pair of pitching prospects for Sheffield. It's unlikely Malone will accept that offer, which leaves the Braves in the uncomfortable position of having to trade Lopez to acquire Sheffield.

Of Sheffield's trade demand, Cox said, "It gets your attention, but you don't put much into it either. But, he's one of the most highly thought of hitters in baseball, so it's intriguing."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.