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Sheffield's 500th homer in limbo?

GARY Sheffield's next home run will be his 500th in Major League Baseball.

The question is: What uniform will he be wearing when he hits it?

The Detroit Tigers released the nine-time All-Star on Tuesday, leaving him without a team as he closes in on becoming the 25th MLB player to reach the milestone. The World Series champions Philadelphia Phillies, however, quickly called the slugger to see if there was a fit.

As Sheffield left the Tigers camp in Florida, he expressed surprise.

"To do this when somebody is one home run away...I don't know how to react to it," he told The Oakland Press of Pontiac.

"Jim (Leyland, manager) said, 'We're going to go with versatility.' When he said that word I thought to myself, 'I'm probably the most athletic guy on this team.' But they're entitled to their opinion."

The 40-year-old Sheffield hit .178 in 18 spring training games this year. The designated hitter had eight hits, including five home runs, in 45 at-bats.

Philadelphia General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team talked to Sheffield and his agent. Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth start in the outfield, and the Phillies aren't sure whether Sheffield would agree to be a backup. "We do not have a gauge. We had a private talk and we'll keep it private."

Any team can sign Sheffield for the US$400,000 minimum, with Detroit paying the rest of his US$14 million salary.

His stay in Detroit was a disappointing one. The team was hopeful Sheffield would be a powerful presence at the plate in the final season of the US$28 million, two-year contract extension it gave him, but he was hurt for much of his time in Detroit.

Elsewhere, Atlanta Braves All-Star third baseman Chipper Jones has agreed to a three-year, US$42 million contract extension through 2012, the team said on Tuesday.

The deal includes an option for a fourth year, making the potential for the extension worth US$61 million.

"It means a lot to me to know that I'm going to spend my entire career with one organization," the 36-year-old said.

Jones is a six-time All-Star and 1999 National League MVP who has played all 15 of his major league seasons with the Braves.

Jones is a career .310 hitter with 408 homers and 1,374 RBI.


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