Ideal fit? Free agent makes contact

Gary Sheffield and Dwight Gooden share the same family tree as well as the same page when it comes to the Yankees: New York would be "an ideal fit" for the free-agent outfielder who last season slugged his way into National League MVP contention.

Sheffield's first choice is to play for the Yankees, his uncle has said, and he made that desire known by recently calling general manager Brian Cashman. Sheffield is doing his own negotiating on a future contract.

"Coming to New York will bring the best out of him," Gooden, who pitched for the Yankees and is employed as a special assistant to George Steinbrenner, told reporters Wednesday night. "If Gary wants it to happen and George wants it to happen, I don't see why it can't. And Gary definitely wants it to happen. He's impatient; he wanted to do it the first day they could talk about money.

"I would like to see it happen," Gooden added. "Do I expect it? Let's say I would hope it would happen."

Sheffield batted .330 with 39 home runs and 132 RBI for the Braves and finished third in MVP voting. He would be the Yankees' answer to their right field job, which they tried to fill late last season with acquisitions Karim Garcia and David Dellucci after trading Raul Mondesi in July.

"He'd do some damage in that lineup," Gooden told reporters. "His last five years have been incredible. In a situation where he's happy, where he doesn't have to worry about contract stuff, I don't see any reason why he couldn't hit 40-plus homers."

Sheffield is a .299 career hitter and his homer numbers are 34-43-36-25-39 the last five seasons.

The New York Daily News, citing a source in the Yankee organization, reported that a two-year deal for Sheffield worth about $18 million has been discussed. Another source told the newspaper that the figure was more in the $26 million range.

A meeting between Sheffield, who turned 35 on Tuesday, and Steinbrenner is expected soon. The Braves want to retain their best hitter and reportedly were miffed after hearing that Sheffield dialed the Yankees.

The Giants and Padres may be potential suitors for Sheffield, too, Gooden said, but he insisted a Sheffield-Yankees marriage "makes perfect sense."

"As his uncle, obviously, I'll tell him to go where he's happy," Gooden told reporters. "But I'll also tell him that the Yankees are great. I want what's best for him. Playing in New York might be it."