Phils release Jenkins, contact Sheffield
Club places pinch-hitting faith in Stairs, enters fray for veteran slugger
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Geoff Jenkins stepped into the batter's box for the biggest at-bat of his life on a chilly Oct. 29 night in Game 5 of the World Series, not as an everyday player, but as a pinch-hitter.
He crushed a double off the right-center-field wall to lead off the sixth inning.
The unforgettable hit shook Citizens Bank Park and led to the go-ahead run in the championship-clinching game against the Tampa Bay Rays. But while Jenkins had one of the biggest pinch-hit at-bats in Phillies' history, Philadelphia did not think he could be as effective a pinch-hitter as Matt Stairs, and the club unconditionally released Jenkins on Tuesday -- paving the way for an additional right-handed bat off the bench.
"I don't know if I foreshadowed this scenario happening, but ... it seemed like somebody would be the odd man out at some point," Jenkins said. "It's real tough."
Jenkins said he had no hard feelings.
"What's there to be mad about?" Jenkins said. "I picked a great year to be here. I wish it worked out better and I could be with them, but I don't regret one minute. I wouldn't change a thing being with these guys, going through what we went through last year."
So who's going to take Jenkins' spot on the bench?
Two players to watch are Gary Sheffield, who the Tigers released Tuesday, and Rangers outfielder Andruw Jones, who Phillies director of Major League scouting Gordon Lakey has been watching lately.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he spoke with Sheffield and his representative, Rufus Williams, after the the slugger's release was announced Tuesday morning. Sheffield, who will make $14 million this season, can sign with any team once he clears waivers. And the team that signs him would have to pay only the league-minimum $400,000.
The Phillies want Sheffield, but would Sheffield want to play for the Phillies?
It seems like a long shot. He played just 18 games in the outfield over the past two seasons with the Tigers, while playing 225 games as a designated hitter. Obviously, Sheffield would not have that option with the Phillies.
"I can go out there on an everyday basis and play in the outfield," Sheffield said. "That's what I yearn for. I want to be in the outfield. At the same time, it kind of puts you in a box when you accept the DH role, because people start labeling you as that's all you can do. And that's not the case."
But even if Sheffield can play in the outfield, he would not be an everyday player with the Phillies, who have Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth in the outfield. Sheffield has just 34 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in his career, hitting .360 (9-for-25) with one homer and 10 RBIs. Would he accept a reserve role?
"We had a very productive conversation with the Phillies," Williams said Tuesday evening in a telephone interview. "We'll take the next couple days to see where we are. It's a hard question to answer at this point. We'll have to see the opportunities that present themselves, and see where he wants to go based on those opportunities."
But it is clear the Phillies prefer another right-handed bat for their bench. Before the club released Jenkins, its bench included the left-handed-hitting Greg Dobbs, Stairs and Jenkins, and the right-handed-hitting Eric Bruntlett and Chris Coste.
Miguel Cairo will be that right-handed bat if the Phillies cannot bring in anybody from outside the organization before Opening Night.
But another interesting aspect of this move is that the Phillies have agreed to eat $17.15 million in salaries over the past two months. They released right-hander Adam Eaton last month, who is owed $9.15 million. Jenkins is owed $8 million, which includes his $6.75 million salary plus a $1.25 million buyout on a club option for 2010.
Throw in the $3 million the Phillies are paying Chicago White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome, and Philadelphia is paying $20.15 million in salaries for players no longer with the team.
"Clearly, we're not happy about having to do it," Amaro said. "Sometimes you don't make the right decisions ... the best laid plans don't seem to work out sometimes. This is obviously a case of both Eaton and Geoff. In a perfect world, Geoff is platooning with Werth or playing in place of Pat Burrell, who is no longer with us. But we felt like we were a better club by doing the things we did, and really it's about taking the best 25 players north for our club to have success."
Jenkins hit .246 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 293 at-bats last season, losing the everyday job in right field to Werth. He hit .250 (11-for-44) with three doubles, one homer and five RBIs in 20 Grapefruit League games this spring.
Jenkins has hit .264 (19-for-72) with three homers and 16 RBIs in his career as a pinch-hitter. Stairs, who become close with Jenkins during their time together last season, has hit .281 (74-for-263) with 14 homers and 62 RBIs in his career as a pinch-hitter.
"I think in the end they thought Stairs was a little more equipped for that pinch-hitter role," Jenkins said. "I can't argue that. Stairs is great at it. He's a tremendous asset. Unfortunately, I'm the odd man out."
"I feel bad," Stairs said. "I've known Geoff for a long time. Am I going to stand here and jump for joy? No chance. It was a tough day."
Jenkins hopes to sign with another team and continue his career. He also would like to be at the Bank on April 8 for the World Series ring ceremony.
He helped get them that ring with that unforgettable double in Game 5.
"That's what you envision when you were little, playing baseball in your front yard, being in the World Series and getting a big hit," Jenkins said. "It's definitely my fond memory here. But on a grander scale, it's about those guys in that clubhouse."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.