One home run shy of the milestone, Sheffield reached a contract agreement with New York on Friday, three days after he was released by the Detroit Tigers in a surprising move.
Just hours before opening their gleaming new ballpark Friday night with an exhibition game against Boston, the Mets made another splash by acquiring the outspoken Sheffield. He is expected to be in New York on Saturday and the deal is contingent on him passing a physical, general manager Omar Minaya said.
"Gary gives us another element in the lineup and he gives us a different intensity, just because of the competitive guy that he is," Minaya said.
The 40-year-old slugger provides the Mets with a right-handed power bat, something they needed to help balance the batting order. But his role on the team will be tricky: New York was already set at the corner outfield spots with Ryan Church in right and Daniel Murphy in left -- both left-handed hitters.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel said the team would give Sheffield time to get in shape to play the outfield, which he hasn't done regularly since getting hurt in 2006. Once he shows he's ready, Sheffield will probably see action in right, Manuel said.
"What this does for us, it really creates some depth in the team," Manuel said. "I believe that in the course of 162 regular-season games, depth is the one thing that is normally overlooked."
Manuel spoke to Sheffield and explained exactly what sort of role he envisions for the nine-time All-Star.
"If he can be close to something that he's been, that could be a tremendous, tremendous help," Manuel said. "He lengthens us out a bit with presence."
Church seemed comfortable with the move, too.
"He's more than welcome. He's a great player. He's just another piece for us," Church said. "I can't control what they do."
"It is a good fit for Gary," Sheffield's agent, Rufus Williams, told Andrew Marchand of 1050 ESPN New York. "He has a lot of respect for the guys on the team, the front office and the ownership with the Mets. He will try to get to New York as quickly as possible."
Sheffield is one big swing from becoming the 25th player to reach 500 home runs. The Tigers will have to pay $13.6 million of his $14 million contract this year while the Mets get him for the major league minimum of $400,000.
Minaya said Sheffield has always wanted to play for the Mets ever since his uncle, Dwight Gooden, was a star pitcher for them in the 1980s and '90s. Sheffield played across town with the Yankees from 2004 to '06, putting up two big seasons followed by an injury-shortened one before he was traded to the Tigers.
When the Tigers released him, they said it was because they wanted to be a more versatile team. Now back in the National League, Sheffield will have to readjust to playing the field. How well he can do that remains to be seen.
"It's good. I hope he comes in with a good attitude," Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado said. "I'm sure he wants to prove to people that he can play."
Philadelphia, the Mets' biggest rival in the NL East, expressed interest in Sheffield soon after he was cut. The Phillies also could use a right-handed bat to balance their lineup.
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, a longtime friend, called Sheffield to offer a part-time role with the Reds.
"Sheff just called me, too, left me a message," Baker said Friday in Zebulon, N.C., before the Reds' exhibition game against a collection of their top minor leaguers. "He told me he was going to sign with the Mets because he has a home in New York. He thought that was the best situation for him. I'm glad for him, and sad for us because I know him personally."
The addition of Sheffield could mean Marlon Anderson's days with the Mets are numbered. A pinch-hitting specialist, he batted .210 with a homer and 10 RBIs last year.
Sheffield has also played for Milwaukee, San Diego, Florida, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta. He is a .292 lifetime hitter and ranks 27th on the career list with 1,633 RBIs.
"He'll be a great asset. He plays hard every day," Delgado said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report