Ryan Sweeney, formerly of the Oakland Athletics, catches a fly ball during the fourth inning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. Oakland won 8-7. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
Until yesterday, we weren't entirely sure who the Red Sox' right fielder of the future was. In the past, it was though to be Ryan Kalish, but then 2011 happened: Kalish was injured most of the season, and Josh Reddick, previously below Kalish on the depth chart, had a successful campaign in Boston filling in for J.D. Drew. This complicated things for 2012, too, especially since Kalish wasn't ready for the bigs yet, and had lost a year of development.
That isn't an issue anymore, as Reddick has been dealt as part of the Andrew Bailey deal. But calling it, "The Andrew Bailey deal" does a disservice to the other Athletic the Red Sox received. Ryan Sweeney isn't the big name in this trade, but he is also more than a throw-in: he is the guy who can help bridge the gap to Kalish while he continues to develop in Pawtucket.
Sweeney, as an every day player, is not the answer in right field for most teams. The left-handed outfielder has one major weakness, and it's his inability to hit his fellow southpaws. This makes him a better fit as a fourth outfielder on a good team, but with the way the Red Sox' roster is built, Sweeney can actually account for somewhere around 75 percent of the playing time at the position, simply by using him against right-handed pitchers. Righties tend to throw roughly three-quarters of all innings, and Sweeney can hit righties.
In his career, Sweeney has a True Average (think of it like wOBA, except on a batting average scale, and adjusted for both park and league difficulty) of .280 against right-handers, and was at .279 in 2011. Those just happen to line up with the overall offensive production of right fielders in 2011. Sweeney has a better glove than your average right fielder, though, as he is capable of stepping in at all three outfield positions and holding his own. Right field in Fenway is tough, but Sweeney, as someone capable of playing center, should be able to range his way across its great expanse.
What to do against lefties, though? The Red Sox have two options at their disposal in Darnell McDonald and Mike Aviles. McDonald has clear weaknesses in his game that keep him from being an every day player, too, but he does one thing very well: hit lefties. McDonald is as good against southpaws as Sweeney is against righties, as his career TAv against lefties is .287, whereas he is at a replacement level .233 versus his fellow right-handers. He's a stretch defensively in center, even though the Red Sox had to use him there often in 2010 when Jacoby Ellsbury was out, but he is serviceable enough in the corner outfield spots.
Combine Sweeney's ability to hit righties with McDonald's lefty-mashing, and you've all of a sudden got yourself a well above-average, Voltron-inspired right fielder. It doesn't have to be McDonald every time, either, as Aviles has a .302 career TAv against lefties (but may be better served as the primary backup infielder with occasional time in the outfield). The point is, the Red Sox have options to make Ryan Sweeney: Starting Outfielder work out, as long as they adhere to a platoon. That platoon will come cheap, too, as Sweeney is expected to make roughly $2 million in his second year of arbitration, and McDonald even less than that in his first.
Sweeney's unadjusted career numbers are not a lot of help in determining what he will do with a full season at Fenway. His career line of .283/.342/.378 isn't impressive, but it's mostly due to a lack of homers and doubles. Normally, that would elicit a response of, "Doesn't the lack of an ability to hit for any power pose a problem?", but in Sweeney's case, it's not entirely his fault. The homers likely are, and Fenway isn't going to be much help in that capacity, but as for doubles, there is nowhere better to go.
Oakland is one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the game, and Sweeney has been there for most of his career. According to Statcorner, Oakland's three-year park factor for doubles for left-handed batters was 88 (where 100 is average, and figures below 100 represent worse than average). Fenway, on the other hand, sits at 142 for lefty doubles. Sweeney is a guy with warning track power who sprays the ball to all fields, meaning he is set to take advantage of that park factor in his new home. If he's a perfect fit for the park in terms of an impending doubles explosion, as many have been in the past, he might end up outperforming his previous adjusted numbers, too.
Sweeney isn't what immediately comes to mind when considering answers for right field, but in the Red Sox' current situation, his presence plus that of players like McDonald gives the Sox their replacement for the departed J.D. Drew. Kalish can sit in Pawtucket until he has finished developing -- and he still needs that seasoning -- and without the Sox giving anything away at the major league level. This deal has made the Red Sox better in the short-term without sacrificing their financial flexibility or Kalish's future -- all in all, it looks like a successful move.