Sweeney Repays Mariners' Courtesy by Pushing for Roster Spot
Santos' story is of an infielder making the transition to a 97-mph power pitcher. (See Ed Price's FanHouse story on Santos here.)
Sweeney, 36, came to the Seattle camp on an invite but without a real chance to make the team. The idea was that he'd be given some at-bats with a chance to perhaps market himself for another club. It was the Mariners' way of saying thanks to a man who'd helped transform the clubhouse and the team's losing ways in 2009.
The Mariners knew they didn't have room for Sweeney, which is one reason they didn't sign him to a minor league deal until the last minute -- too late, in fact, to even make the club's media guide.
And then the Cactus League games started. When Sweeney would get a chance to play, there would be clubhouse jokes about the number of scouts in the stands.
In the games, hits started to rain off Sweeney's bat. He's hit in all eight of his games this spring, including his second homer Thursday, and it would now be a surprise if he didn't make the Mariner roster.
"On paper, I really had no chance when I came here this year," Sweeney told FanHouse Friday morning. "But if this was going to be it for me, I was going to go down doing my best."
His best includes a .577 batting average through Thursday that would be the best in the Cactus League if Sweeney's 26 at-bats were enough to qualify for the batting race. He's got two homers, four doubles and seven RBI.
"I didn't see a way for him to make the roster," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "But he's meant a lot to the club with what he contributed last year, so we wanted to at least give him the chance to catch on someplace else."
There are still scouts around, but Sweeney seems unlikely to get a chance to put himself up for bid on the open market. Not that he'd want to. He sees the Mariners as having a chance to win the American League West and/or contend for an AL Wild Card spot, and he's not about to miss out on that if he can help it.
"I'm infamously toward the top of the list of players with the most playing time to never have played in the playoffs," Sweeney said. "But we've got a chance to make it here this year, and I want to be part of it."
Sweeney was a fixture in Kansas City from 1995-2007, then spent a year in Oakland where Wakamatsu was the bench coach. When Wakamatsu got the Mariner job in 2009, he pushed to bring Sweeney into camp. Even then, he was an invited player who had to earn a job, and he did.
Much of the punch in his bat was MIA early in the season, but he hit .381 over the course of his final 25 games from Aug 20 on to finish with a .281 batting average. He says his big spring is just a continuation of that.
"I have the same routine as I had last year; I'm not changing anything," he said. "I came to camp in great shape and just wanted to give myself the best chance I could to play one more season.
"I had an incredible time here in '09. I'd like to see if we can do it one more time."
Sweeney figures to be a part-time DH behind Ken Griffey Jr. and to get an occasional game at first base, although newcomer Casey Kotchman is probably going to get a chance to play against right-handers and left-handers.
"I've taken just as many ground balls this spring as Casey," Sweeney said, breaking into a smile, "but I think they're going to want his glove out there. But I still have the desire to be out there, even though it's out of my control."
If he keeps averaging .577, playing time figures to be very much in Sweeney's control heading into April.