CLEARWATER, Fla. - Gary Sheffield was one of the preeminent righthanded sluggers of his generation, and the Phillies need a righty bat for their bench.
Yesterday, they released a lefthanded slugger, Geoff Jenkins.
Although neither side would eliminate the possibility of the 40-year-old Sheffield's becoming a Phillie, multiple team sources told The Inquirer that the chances of signing him are, in the words of one official, "very slim."
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would say only that the parties had spoken yesterday after Sheffield was released by the Detroit Tigers. Amaro declined to say if he knew whether Sheffield would accept a part-time role.
Rufus Williams, Sheffield's agent, was also noncommittal. "As we look for our options over the next few days, we'll decide what the best role will be," he told The Inquirer. A part-time role "is not off the table; nothing is off the table."
Though the Phillies are actively seeking to upgrade their bench with a righthanded batter - Amaro declined to commit to Miguel Cairo yesterday - Sheffield does not appear to be a perfect fit.
The Phillies do not need a starting outfielder, and Sheffield has pinch-hit just 34 times in 21 major-league seasons (with nine hits in those plate appearances). He batted .225 last season for Detroit, albeit with 19 home runs, and was the designated hitter in all but six games.
Jenkins released. Jenkins spoke calmly and quietly about 25 minutes after receiving his unconditional release, his eyes obscured by sunglasses. But a mention of his teammates punctured the 34-year-old's composure.
"I'm just going to have to talk to the guys and let them know, and that's the toughest thing for me," he said. "When you go through that playoff run, that World Series run, that's definitely a part of [their closeness], but I think it was bigger than that."
Jenkins' voice cracked as he continued. "When you have a group of guys that all pull for each other, it's special to be a part of that."
Jenkins' place in Phillies lore was assured by a pinch-hit double to lead off the sixth inning of Game 5 of last year's World Series. But team management has long considered Jenkins and 41-year-old Matt Stairs to be too much alike, so the Phillies were unlikely to begin the season with both players.
Yesterday's move temporarily left the final roster in Cairo's possession, but Amaro made it clear that he was still seeking a different righthanded bat. "We haven't made a decision on the 25th player," he said.
The Phillies owe Jenkins about $8 million in salary this season, but decided to absorb the cost and retain Stairs, a more experienced pinch-hitter set to make $1 million. The Phillies already released pitcher Adam Eaton this spring, costing them about $9 million.