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ryan sweeney cubsOf the myriad minor league flyer and waiver wire pick-up deals the Chicago Cubs have made this year, the one that excited me the most on the positional side was the Ryan Sweeney signing.

When talk of the Red Sox letting Sweeney go started to circulate, here’s what I wrote:

The Red Sox are letting 28-year-old outfielder Ryan Sweeney go, and I wonder if he might be an interesting pick-up for the Cubs on a minor league deal, if that’s the best he can find …. He’s good defensively, can play all over the outfield, bats lefty, doesn’t strike out, sees a lot of pitches … I’d like him in the organization. Smart money says the Cubs are feeling him out.

Smart money, indeed. The Cubs subsequently signed Sweeney to a minor league deal, and I doled out further praise, essentially questioning how the Cubs were able to get such an obviously big-league-caliber player on a minor league deal.

That is all to say that I was pretty pleased that the Cubs had landed such a quality player on a no-risk deal. Time has borne out that excitement, and Sweeney’s performance deserves some highlighting today.

By the time David DeJesus sprained his shoulder earlier this month, Sweeney had already emerged as the preferred fourth outfielder on the team. But, with a lack of right-handed hitting outfielders on the bench, Sweeney was given the unenviable task of being DeJesus’s caddie in center field when there was a lefty on the mound. Now that DeJesus is out, Sweeney starts every game in center field. That means that, although he’s a lefty, he has not had the benefit of facing solely righties. Still, Sweeney is hitting .299/.348/.523 (134 OPS+). In fact, he’s actually hitting better against lefties this year (.958) than righties (.833).

The point there is to underscore that Sweeney’s numbers thus far aren’t the product of him  batting only in advantageous matchups. Neither is his performance the product of an elevated (and unsustainable) batting average on balls in play. Sweeney’s BABIP this year is .326, and it’s .324 for his career. Sweeney is also striking out at the same rate he always has (14.7% this year versus 14.6% for his career), and is actually walking slightly less (6.9% this year versus 7.9% for his career). The biggest difference has come in the form of power, where Sweeney has a .224 IsoP versus just .105 for his career. Perhaps the power is unsustainable, but he doesn’t have to sustain quite this level of power to remain a highly valuable player (especially as a fourth outfielder). Sweeney is performing well this year because he’s pretty good at baseball.

At 28, Sweeney could be a very nice player for the Cubs for a few years yet to come. He plays good defense all over the outfield, he’s got a great approach at the plate (consistently near the league leaders in pitches per plate appearance), and hits well enough to fill in for extended periods of time, even if he’s not a starter. To me, that sounds like one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball, and a guy the Cubs should keep around.

The rub for the Cubs is that Sweeney is a free agent after this season. While they might like to keep him in the fold going forward, he’s played so well, and presents so much possible value as a complementary piece that the Cubs might not be able to avoid trading him by July 31. Even if they don’t shop Sweeney, his name is going to come up in talks with other teams who, while speaking to the Cubs about a pitcher, for example, will invariably say, “hey, by the way, you know we could use a fourth outfielder, too, and that Sweeney sure is playing well …. ”

Indeed, I’ve noticed in passing that, when third parties are discussing possible Cubs trade chips, Sweeney’s name starts to come up. You don’t usually see that for minor league free agent pickups who’ve mostly been playing off the bench, but Sweeney is legitimately great in that role, and it has a lot of value. In other words, however much the Cubs might like Sweeney, they may have to strongly consider shopping him over the next month.

I’m not sure how much it adds to his trade value, but Sweeney’s popularity has gotten to the point that the outfielder has become a Ryan Gosling-esque meme. I’m not sure who started it, but I’ve seen a few pictures of Sweeney on Twitter from Julie DiCaro. What can you say? The dude is mighty handsome:

  • Rebuilding

    Not that it is my pursuasion, but Sweeney is devilishly handsome. Curious move by the Red Sox as they probably wish they had him right now. Ellsbury is no certain thing to stay healthy

    • DarthHater

      Sweeney, DeJesus, and Schierholtz have gotta be the best looking outfield in all of baseball. :-P

      • Carew

        Now if we can get Kim DeJesus in a Cubs uniform..

        • Frank

          Bat girl?

          • Frank

            I forgot: Cubs uniform with hot pants.

            • DarthHater

              There. Our collective masculinity has been restored.

        • Stevie B

          In then out…

      • BluBlud

        Brian Bugosevic aint too bad, and Soriano could pass for Tall, Dark and handsome. Borbon is average, and he might be the worse looking one.

        If the fans stop buying tickets, we could aways do a ladies lock in with the outfielders to recoup some of the loses.

        • DarthHater

          I think it’s about time to ask some of the ladies on the board to take over this conversation…

          • BluBlud

            :)

          • Stinky Pete

            I have always said

            I’m not gay, but I don’t think you have to be to appreciate how good looking David DeJesus is.

            • UCF

              This conversation is going down a strange road. Not that its a bad thing, if your into that kind of thing (Seinfeld reference).

              • Diggs

                “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

                • Stinky Pete

                  No. Nothing at all….

                  • Dawn Strand

                    This might be the funniest comment thread I’ve ever read on a Cub’s website. Thanks for the giggles. And, by the way, even my own husband acknowledges how good looking Sweeney is – although he thinks the hair is a bit much…

              • Bric

                Hey bud, does your UCF stand for U. of Central Fla. ? if you’re a grad, cool- me too. Go Knights (and Cubs)!

                • UCF

                  Nope…it doesn’t.

  • HackAttack

    Bruce Levin used to gush on him too when he was with the White Sox.

    One of the starters and Sweeney to the Giants.

  • Edwin

    Nice article about Sweeney. So far he’s only had 35 PA against left-handed pitching, and his BABIP against LH is .423. For his career he’s been pretty terrible against LH pitching, so I’d expect his numbers against southpaws this year to regress heavily.

    Still, he’s probably the perfect 4th outfielder at this point. He can play all three OF positions, and he’s in the more desirable side of the platoon situation. I’d almost rather the Cubs see if they can keep him with a decent extention, and keep him around for OF depth. I think depth is sometimes in undderated when it comes to putting together solid teams.

  • X the Cubs Fan

    Brett you may be a baseball … Ian Stewart talking minor league deal with the Yankees.

  • mak

    It’s easy to joke on the ridiculous amount of waiver claims (or minor league signings) that this FO has made (“the final piece of the puzzle!” e.g.), but the strategy has been actually quite effective. Sweeney, Valbuena, Ransom, Gregg, etc. have all gone from “no value” to “some value” and I can only recall losing Whitenack to the a waiver claim. This FO is relentless.

    • Can’t think of a cool name

      Maybe Dave McKay stole some Cardinal voodoo magic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anotherspacesong Bret Epic

    My timing really was perfect…

  • Crockett

    Sweeney was once a top prospect as well…maybe he’s just figuring it out a bit late. That HAS happened before albeit rarely. And that BABiP against LHP will certainly fall out of the sky eventually.

  • Drew

    He’s Got a Frankie Ballard look about him too.

    [img]http://www.frankieballard.com/[/img]

  • Kyle

    Career HR/FB%: 3.7%
    2013: 12.5%

    Career XBHIP/HIP%: 25.2%
    2013: 39.3%

    That’ll do it.

    He’s probably earned himself an actual, guaranteed MLB contract for next year. If we’re interested in being the top bidder for him to be a reserve outfielder, I guess that’s fine. If not, trade him for whatever you can get, including salary relief.

  • mudge

    He seems like a fine everyday center fielder to me. Trade the other guy.

  • The Dude Abides

    You think we discovered Sweeney? We found him where we find most of our players, guy has over 2000 PA’s and is having a career year 120 PA’s into the season.

    Nice role player but wouldn’t stand in his way if we get a call on him, hopefully our minor league system isn’t so weak we couldn’t find another one just like him to finish out the year. There will be another one released again next spring, maybe even him.

    • YourResidentJag

      Well, there is that Bugosevic guy. Cubs weren’t sure Sweeney could play regularly in CF. I guessing he should get the chance next year.

  • Cubbies4Life

    The Woman’s Perspective: Le swoon. Sweeney, Rizzo (even with the new haircut), DeJesus, Bogusevic, Schierholtz. Pretty please, Theo – can we just keep ALL of them?

    • DarthHater

      Thank you. Now us guys can go back to talking about the players’ wives… ;-)

      • Danny Ballgame

        Yeah, chicks and cars n stuff

  • Rich H

    There is a great write up on Blackburn that just came up on Milb.com. Talks about his added muscle this year and the results of it. Great read and glad to see the kid getting some Pub.

    http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130628&content_id=52033822&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_milb&sid=milb&tcid=tw_share

  • cubzfan

    Sweeney was a league average hitting outfielder in his mid-20s with Oakland, and it’s nice to see him continue to develop with the Cubs.

    I have to ask: on what basis do people conclude that he will be a free agent at the end of the year? According to Cot’s, he will have just over 6 years of ML service time at the end of this season. MLB Trade Rumors does not have him listed as an eligible free agent on their 2014 list. Are we sure he wouldn’t just be arb-eligible, like Schierholtz, in November?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Six years of service time qualifies a player for free agency. I’m assuming Sweeney had an opt out built into his minor league deal that ensured he was called up in time to reach six years by the end of the season.

      • cub2014

        Isnt sweeney a career.290 hitter?
        thats better than any cub I would guess.
        except maybe Castro?

        • cub2014

          move dejesus keep sweeney he is 5 years
          older than sweeney and dejesus has hit
          .240, .264 & .263 last 3 years if you can move
          dejesus lets do it.

          • cub2014

            if someone said soler and almora will be
            career .290 hitters it would be awesome
            but not very likely. I mean i hope so but
            not likely. sweeney already is

          • Can’t think of a cool name

            Sweeney is a career .281 hitter (including this year) with an OBP of .338. The last three years, not including this year, he hit .294, .260 and .265 in limited playing time. The part that makes Sweeney a 4th outfielder is hip slugging percentage, .386 which takes his OPS to .724 for his career. DeJesus’ career slugging percentage and OPS is .420 and .773. IF Sweeney can continue his power surge he would be good to keep around, however his past performance does not suggest he will.

  • Adam

    Hope they keep him. It’s nice having a guy from C.R. on the team.

  • Katie

    Two words for Sweeney: yum yum.

    Although he’s no D Lee, my future ex husband.

  • ssckelley

    I like Sweeney, I think he is just as good as DeJesus only younger and cheaper.

  • nkniacc13

    Gee if the cubs trade Sweeney, Dejesus, Soriano unlikely, Scheriholtz what would that OF look like ouch

    • Rebuilding

      Probably Soriano, Borbon and Bogusevic. With McDonald and Sappelt. It isn’t pretty. At that point you are going for the #1 pick and Rondon

      • mudge

        forgetting Hairston?

        • Rebuilding

          Yes, I guess I have. He would be in there somewhere

        • Die hard

          He’s tethered to a weather balloon over New Mexico

  • YourResidentJag

    For those who like WGN Sportsnite, on Monday, David Kaplan will get his own show. It’s completely sports unlike SportsNight and will feature Jordan Bernfield and Mark Carman. It’s also 5 hours, now from 7-midnight. Thought this may be of interest talk sportstalk folks and possibly Brett, especially since the Score does do a whole lot of baseball talk these days.

    • Rich H

      Since you are now Pub’in Kaplan’s show I assume that you are one of the aforementioned guys? I am just kidding. If I could get the score I would check it out, Might have to wait for the pod cast.

      • YourResidentJag

        You can get both on the web.

  • YourResidentJag

    *doesn’t do

  • fromthemitten

    yeah I’d really like to know how he is immune to helmet hair

  • Die hard

    How’s that pin up man crush now that he’s going on DL?

    • Carew

      Sweeney? He’s just day-to-day

      • Die hard

        Is there more than one man crush on this site ? Yikes — what’s this site evolving into?

      • Dynastyin2017

        He’s day-to-day and still handsome.

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