Monday, November 14, 2005
Oh, THAT Sweeney.
Giants Fan #2: No, who?
Giants Fan #1: Sweeney.
Giants Fan #2: Mike Sweeney? Yes! Finally, they go after a big bat to stick at first base!
Giants Fan #1: Uh, well, no. Actually, it’s Mark Sweeney.
Giants Fan #2: (clutches chest and reels backwards Fred Sanford-style): Oh boy! Here comes the big one!
Henry Schulman reported the other day that one of the players the Giants are looking to pick up this winter is veteran first baseman Mark Sweeney, a guy who has carved out a niche in the majors as an expert pinch hitter. He had an .876 OPS as a pinch hitter in 2005, and his career line in those situations is .270/.363/.403. Last year, Sweeney received a career-high 221 at-bats and had unquestionably his best season, raking to the tune of .294/.395/.466, a line that looks even more amazing when you realize he was playing in the hitting vacuum that is Petco Park. He’s also 35, so he certainly meets the veteran criteria that the Giants hold in their quest to field the oldest lineup imaginable. Next on the list: Tommy John and Minnie Minoso. Seriously, at what point does Brian Sabean just hand Ned Coletti a chart of 1900-era ballplayers like Honus Wagner and Cap Anson, a la Mr. Burns, and tell Coletti to make the Giants a winner? It seems like the natural next step (though the idea of Ned Coletti informing a dejected Sabean Smithers-style that all those guys have, in fact, been dead for several decades summons up an amusing mental picture).
Sweeney seems more like a cheap stop-gap solution that the A’s would go after, reminiscent of Scott Hatteberg. I can’t believe the Giants would be silly enough to entertain the idea of making him their everyday first baseman, but then again this is a franchise that gave Neifi Perez a two-year deal with designs of making him their starting shortstop. Sweeney is an excellent pinch-hitter/bench guy, and grabbing him to fill that role, and that role only, would be a fine move. Sweeney can work the count and he’s got occasional pop, and he’d be a terrific upgrade to a bench that pretty much stunk up China Basin last year. As a bonus, he only made $575,000 last season and he should be had for similar peanuts again this year.
However, if the Giants have ideas of making him an everyday player, as the Schulman report implies, it’d be a mistake on several levels. First off, it’d needlessly take at-bats away from Lance Neikro, a guy who could potentially turn into a fine power hitter. I can’t reiterate this enough. Neikro is young and deserves a shot as the everyday first baseman, just in case he can start hitting righties and he turns into a major threat. If he sucks butt for a month, fine, get him get him out of there, but there’s no sense in having a proven mediocrity soaking up at-bats while a possible bust-out candidate in Neikro wastes away.
Also, as I noted before, Sweeney had his best season at the plate last year…at age 35. Danger Will Robinson! It’s possible that Sweeney’s always been this good, and that his numbers have just been squandered by a lack of at-bats (he’s averaged only 123 per season in his 11-year career). More likely, he just had a fluke year, and if given a full season’s worth of plate appearances for the first time he’ll just be exposed. Sweeney has been a top notch bench guy for a long time, and these kinds of players don’t have histories of just suddenly seeing their effectiveness fall into a bottomless pit (Lenny Harris and Dave Magadan went on forever), so he’d be a fine, if not particularly noteworthy, addition. The Giants just need to approach the Sweeney hunt by chanting to themselves the mantra “200 ABs, good. 500 bad. 200, good. 500 bad!” and acting accordingly, and everything will work out fine.