Monday, July 26, 2004

Whither Sweeney . . .

Well, first let's hope we're talking about Mike Sweeney and not Mark Sweeney -- though the latter actually has slightly better (though Coors-enhanced) numbers for about 5% of the price, and he's left-handed. 

I kid because I care, Jack.

Although I doubt the veracity of this rumor (Royals GM Allard Baird was quoted as saying that "he owes it to Sweeney to see if he can find a home for him with a contender," which doesn't exactly sound like the Mariners), there is no question that Jack's right about Sweeney.  It's even worse than he said: if Sweeney is traded, the $11M per year he is owed from 2005-2007 would increase to $12.5M per year.  That's the same money Vladimir Guerrero will make over the same time (although he will get a minimum of $17.M more after that, in the form of $14.5M in 2008 and at least $3M buyout in lieu of a $15M salary in 2009 . . . but we're talking about Vladimir Guerrero  here, who's 28 and a helluva  lot better than Mike Sweeney).  Miguel Tejada, the guy the M's balked at last winter and most people thought the Orioles overpaid to get, will make less and put up better numbers through his (upcoming, he's 28) prime than Sweeney did in his (past) prime.

To me, this is exactly the kind of deal the M's have stumbled over in the past.  They're almost like the bad fantasy owner who catches on to the fact that a player is pretty good after  he has already begun the decline from his peak.  The Mariners look at Sweeney, and they think he can repeat, in his age 32-34 years, the run he put together from 1999 to 2002, his 26-29 years.  I am in the process of updating Bill James' "Aging Patterns" study that I referred to in a post a couple of weeks ago, but trust me, that very rarely happens.  Some guys have one year during this age span where they approximate something resembling their peak, but the chance of Sweeney performing to the level of his contract for more than 3-6 months out of three years is somewhere between slim and none. 

This is especially so because Sweeney has already suffered a serious injury and has not seen his performance recover.  Before wrenching his neck (when his teammates apparently slapped his head too hard after a game-winning hit against the Giants on Father's Day) last year -- an injury that cost him six weeks -- Sweeney was putting up what had been (for him) typical numbers: .321/.440/.540.  After he came back, he hit only .260/.325/.379 with only 12 XBH.  He was simply not the same hitter he was before the injury.  Over the off-season, Sweeney reportedly opted against surgery so that he could be ready for this season, but he has not returned to previous form.  He's hitting .289/.344/.503 -- not bad numbers (though probably inflated a bit by the Royals' home park), but not $12.5M per year over three years kinds of numbers, and the age/injury issues have  to give any reasonably competent GM pause to consider that he will never again be the same player he once was. 

That the Mariners are consistently  fooled on exactly these kinds of things is the most distressing thing about being a Mariners fan.  Forget about giving up Gil Meche (although I question the wisdom of trading up a 25-year old pitcher with 70+ ML starts and an over-.500 record -- not to mention the kind of stuff scouts drool over -- for aging hitting, no matter how big Meche's current struggles are), it's just a bad idea to acquire somebody like Sweeney and the contract that comes with him, no matter who we give up.   


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