This rumor season has been surprisingly light on the head-scratcher types, probably based on the fact that the Cubs are obvious sellers, and that the pieces the Cubs will sell are fairly easy to identify. This time of year, though, always brings out some strange rumors – some that you can instantly shoot down, and others that make you think.

Here’s at least one head scratcher for you, from the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman, and it actually is making me do some thinking:

One baseball insider suggested the Red Sox are discussing a deal involving outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who will become more expendable once Jacoby Ellsbury returns to action soon after the All-Star break, and the Chicago Cubs are one possible destination. The Cubs are believed to be listening to offers for two of their starting pitchers: Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. Sweeney would have to be part of a much larger package if either of those pitchers, particularly Garza, went to the Red Sox.

First, I want to defend Silverman a bit here. To his credit, he appropriately concludes the thought with the correct caveat that Sweeney, alone, ain’t netting the Red Sox Garza or Dempster, especially Garza.

Second, it reads to me like Silverman isn’t speculating here. Instead, it reads to me like Silverman is saying that his source told him (1) Sweeney is being discussed in trade talks, and (2) at least one of those possibly interested teams is the Cubs.

But, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Setting aside the fact that, in a deal involving Sweeney and the pitchers, the Cubs would primarily be looking to pick up prospects, does Sweeney make sense for the Cubs?

Sweeney is just 27, but he’s already in his second year of arbitration, and will be a free agent after 2013. He’s cheap, making just $1.75 million this year, and can play all over the outfield, but he’s also relatively unproductive. This year, he’s hitting justĀ .283/.319/.400, though for his career, his OBP is usually higher (.340) (and his SLG is lower (.381)).

This could be a situation where Theo and Jed see a guy who might have particular success in Wrigley Field (which does play better for lefties). But, even if that’s true, why would they be looking to acquire a 27-year-old outfielder right now? Well, Sweeney could be an inexpensive gap-bridger to the young outfielders – think Albert Almora and Jorge Soler types, or even Brett Jackson if he takes another year, or doesn’t develop at all – and he could also be an upside play. Maybe he takes another step forward this and next year, and the Cubs just picked up an inexpensive but valuable player. The Cubs may not be interested in giving Tony Campana a full-time shot in the second half or in 2013, and they may not believe in guys like Dave Sappelt or Jae-Hoon Ha.

Consider this, as well: Sweeney is not a game-changer. But he might be slightly more expensive than a typical bench pick-up for a playoff bound team. So a team like the Cubs might have more interest in him than other possible trade partners, and they might look to cash in on the soon-to-be very crowded Boston outfield.

So, that is all to say: I could see reasons the Cubs might have interest in Sweeney as a complementary piece in a deal, but, until we learn more, it’s still something of a head-scratcher. For one thing, there isn’t a spot for him right now, with Alfonso Soriano in left, David DeJesus in center, and Bryan LaHair in right. Does interest in Sweeney portend the imminent movement of one of those guys? If one is dealt this month, picking up Sweeney would sure give the Cubs plenty of cover not to rush Brett Jackson up to the bigs. And, then, after 2013, if the Cubs don’t like him, Sweeney’s gone. Heck, if they don’t like him after this year he can be gone.

It’s worth reminding ourselves: when these guys make a deal, many of the pieces can surprise you. Picking up Sweeney could actually prove a brilliant stroke, depending on what the related moves are. I think we can be sure that Sweeney isn’t going to be the center piece in any deal, but he should get you thinking about what else could be on the horizon.



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