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ryan sweeney red soxNot that I make it a practice to obsessively pore over every minor Chicago Cubs move (winky face), but I’ve been running around this Ryan Sweeney signing in my head for the past day.

Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs inked 28-year-old outfielder Ryan Sweeney to a minor league deal after he was dumped by the Red Sox in favor of uber-prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. A lefty with offensive upside who can adequately cover all three outfield positions, I’d think Sweeney would have been one of the more-pursued fourth outfield candidates back when he became a free agent after being non-tendered by the Red Sox last November. He wasn’t, however, because he quickly re-signed with the Red Sox, seeing some outfield opportunities.

After Bradley’s emergence, Sweeney saw that he was going to be somewhere in the 6th outfielder range on the roster, and asked for his release rather than be sent to the minors. There are teams across baseball that could use a fourth or fifth outfielder like Sweeney, so it was the logical move. And, after becoming a free agent once again, Sweeney signed with a team that has … as many as five outfielders ahead of him on the roster.

Wait. What?

Obviously we don’t know what other teams were interested in Sweeney, though he told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that there were at least a few teams. So why would he settle on the Cubs?

Don’t get me wrong: I thought Sweeney made sense for the Cubs all along. With platoons in center field and right field, a lack of quality depth at AAA, and the possibility of trades, the Cubs could definitely use someone like Sweeney. And no-risk upside plays are always nice.

What I’m questioning is why the Cubs make sense for Sweeney. Is it simply a matter of him playing the odds that an outfield trade or two is coming by midseason? Maybe. Does he simply think he’s better than Dave Sappelt, and believes he can prove it at Iowa in short order? Maybe.

But I wonder what those phone calls with Theo Epstein, with whom Sweeney says he spoke before signing, sounded like. I wonder what recruiting pitch Epstein used, given the five outfielders already on his big league roster. When you’re selling a big league caliber player on a minor league deal, your primary selling point is the possibility of cracking the big league roster. How exactly did Epstein frame that to Sweeney, and what might it tell us about the organization’s plans?

I think it’s pretty clear that the Cubs are now in a much better position to deal Alfonso Soriano or David DeJesus without having to rush Brett Jackson. Sweeney won’t replace either player’s production, but he’s a far superior overall option than a Brian Bogusevic or Darnell McDonald. Would Epstein hint at such a thing? Or would he simply fall back on the old, “Well, Ryan, injuries happen, and you’d be the first guy we’d call up”?

We’ll probably never know, but it’s safe to say that the Cubs are in a much better position to make an outfield move today than they were yesterday. And that’s no accident.

Sweeney appears to be a Moneyball player through and through, and a guy that any smart team would want to find space for. The offensive line – .280/.338/.378 – for his career doesn’t wow you, but he does everything well at the periphery. First of all, he’s a lefty who hits righties well, making him a cheap, ideal platoon candidate. His career line against righties is .293/.347/.402, which is actually markedly better than Nate Schierholtz’s line against righties (.266/.321/.414). (And you can probably throw out ballpark effects, given that Sweeney spent most of his time in spacious Oakland, while Schierholtz’s power was dying in San Francisco.)

He walks at a league-average rate, and strikes out slightly less than league average. He plays average-to-above-average defense in all three outfield positions.

And Sweeney sees a huge number of pitches. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his 4.33 pitches per plate appearance over the last two seasons would place him third in all of baseball.

Sweeney’s 2012 season was both disappointing and embarrassing, as his numbers were down and he broke his hand in July after punching a door in frustration. But Red Sox GM Ben Cherington says Sweeney was actually hot to start the year before playing through an unspecified injury drove his numbers down.

Taking it all in, you get the picture of a guy for whom some team should have wanted to find a big league roster spot. A smart team can see that this is a guy who, as a platoon outfielder or a bench guy, makes your team better. And yet he had to settle for a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs.

It makes me wonder if we’re going to see Mr. Sweeney in Chicago soon, and it makes me wonder what kind of move could be a precursor  to his promotion.

  • Featherstone

    And the wheels begin to turn.

  • David

    I wouldn’t mind having him as a leadoff man… He sees a lot of pitches and has good speed.

  • Kyle

    This was my first thought as well.

    If Ryan Sweeney just wants to be close to his Iowa home and liked the familiarity with the Cubs’ front office, then maybe that’s all there is to this.

    But if you had a David DeJesus trade lined up and didn’t want to call Brett Jackson up yet, this would be exactly the guy you’d want hanging out at Iowa.

    • Noah

      My thoughts on this exactly as well.

  • wvcubsfan

    Closer to family?

    • terencemann

      Sweeney is originally from Iowa.

  • CubsFanBob

    Trade him to the Red’s so Choo can move over to left field :)

  • ETS

    Maybe they are just really sure they will move at least one of sori or dejesus before the deadline and really sure that Jackson won’t be ready by then. Maybe Sweeny thinks spending a couple months then starting is better than all season as a 5th or platoon OF.

    • ETS

      Spending a couple months at iowa*

    • terencemann

      I think DeJesus is definitely gone and they probably want to have a better back-up plan if Soriano leaves as well. McDonald and Bogusevic aren’t really guys you want on the ML team.

  • BluBlud

    I think the Cubs have a couple of trades lined up, but are waiting to pull the trigger. I don’t think the Sweeny deal changes that in either way. What Sweeny does is give the Cubs the option to pull the trigger on a trade that they may have been hesitant to pull prior. Either way, I think they were going to make a deal with one of the OF, well before Deadline, one way or another.

    • itzscott

      >> I think the Cubs have a couple of trades lined up <<

      Not sure about two, but pretty certain about one. I think the Cubs are waiting to see how the minor league season starts out and are heavily scouting some kid somewhere before pulling the trigger on a DeJesus trade.

  • gocatsgo2003

    Nice piece.

    PS — “Pour” vs. “pore.”

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Gracias, and gracias.

  • terencemann

    I don’t think this means anything is imminent. Sweeney probably sees a chance to play right away if anyone in that outfield gets injured and he could be the every-day left-fielder if Soriano gets traded sooner rather than later.

  • Big Daddy

    I just have one question? Can he play third base?

  • Big Daddy

    Valbuena is awful.

  • Big Daddy

    Now that I am done ranting about the not so hot corner, I think this was an excellent move.

  • corey costello

    Didn’t you just describe Dejesus?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      A lot of similarities, yes. Though DeJesus is better.

      • corey costello

        ahhh, okay. I was a little confused with the why the cubs would sign him, but it’s obvious now.

  • http://thenewenthusiast.com dw8

    Funny that you referred to him as a “Moneyball” player. It reminded me of this article.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/ryan-sweeney-were-selling-jeans-here/

    Would love to see him get a chance in center. Quite possibly after a Soriano or DeJesus. It might not be a disaster!

  • Alex

    After lillibridges game I’m asking him about second before third.

    • Featherstone

      Wishing for Barney’s bat back just reminds you how very dire the situation is right now at 2nd.

      • hansman1982

        If anything, maybe the 2 weeks of seeing Lillibridge in the lineup will make the Cubs go out and get a better MI.

        • terencemann

          I don’t think they’re going to commit anything to bringing in a second baseman who gets replaced as soon as Barney is back. I think we’re stuck with Lillibridge.

          • Whiteflag

            What’s Mr. Watkins doing?

            • CubsWin

              I Agree Watkins is the guy.

        • Jim

          Alberto

  • Die hard

    Maybe he peaked 3 yrs ago and we get the left overs again?

  • Clay

    Maybe its Sweeney who will be packaged into a Sorino or DeJesus deal for a better return?

    • Boogens

      Not sure this is probable. Why wouldn’t the Sweeney just sign directly with the team that would trade for him in your scenario?

      • Clay

        How could Sweeney possibly know which team the Cubs would send him too? Im not saying he will be traded I was just putting it out there that maybe he would be added to a deal that would net a better return if he were added.

  • Rebuilding

    The Royals really need a platoon partner for Franceour in RF. DeJesus would definitely fit the bill and they seem to be all in. An arm that they have in the bullpen that really intrigues me is Kelvin Herrera: 23 years old, 4/1 k/bb ratios over 80 games in the bigs, he also started some in the minors and put up great numbers: http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=516969#gameType='R'&sectionType=career&statType=2&season=2013&level='ALL

  • MDel

    I like the move, even if there isn’t anything imminent. Worst case this move eliminates an alternative option for teams considering a trade for a DeJesus-type, effectively thinning the market.

  • Ivy Walls

    “If two different things are equal to the same thing, than those two things are equal to each other as well.”

    DeJesus and Sweeney are essentially equal in most ways, they are average hitting OF’ers who are smart approach hitters who bat left and play all three OF positions above average well.

    Sweeney is however, younger, cheaper and possibly hungrier. The obvious plan is DeJesus and the plan is probably go to Iowa, get a good 4-6 weeks under your belt and get healed (whatever the injury was during ST) and in the meantime DeJesus’ deal is worked. My guess is Soriano is by his lonesome and his value peaks around June 15th to June 30th which coincides with seeing how Brett Jackson is doing. Sweeney then could move to platoon RF and another platoon goes to LF, leaving BJackson in CF by his lonesome if called up.

  • another JP

    Getting Sweeney on a minor league deal is exactly what we needed to build depth in the event of an impending trade. Putting him in Iowa is also great because it gets him close to home and his approach at the plate is just what Cub management wants in all players. That outfield in Iowa of Sweeney, BJax, and Bogusevic isn’t too shabby.

  • Bilbo161

    I have seen folks clamor for the Royals CB sandwich pick this year for DeJesus. Is that enough? Too much to expect? I like the idea. Maybe sweeten the deal or expand it to add more on both sides?

    • HackAttack

      How about DeJesus to the Reds for their CB sandwich pick (#38). Too much too little?

      • BluBlud

        Um, Draft picks are untradeable????

        • Kyle

          Competitive balance picks can be traded.

  • Saving Grace

    Sweeney was brutal last year as Brett mentioned.
    But was also horrible this spring and was being cut long before the Bradley situation came to it’s conclusion.
    I live in Boston and all out here were well aware from the media Sweeney was going to be asked to go to Pawtucket,of which he could decline and be set free.
    He is a major league vet but i fear doesn’t bring much.
    Thou the Sox are deeper than the cubs .

    I like the idea of Theo holding out till mid May or if the Royals get off to a bad start and trying to wiggle the Royals sandwich pick plus a player for DeJesus.
    I read an article where someone was thinking along those lines/
    So if DeJesus is traded he now has a major league vet to fill in,albeit one which appears to be in decline.
    And who knows if he then catches fire he could be flipped,or part of a deadline package.
    So the move seems to fit the Theo mold so far

  • Diamond Don

    Great signing of Sweeney! Now trade Dejesus and Sori for some young pitching prospects and bring up Sweeney and Jackson.

  • Die hard

    Soriano to Reds? They need OF

  • Jim

    Another option could just be that Ben and Theo talked and Ben said that Ryan would be buried in the BoSox system, what can you do?

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