Most of the focus these past few days has been on
Sweeney was the other player
I have been thinking about Sweeney because I was surprised to find him still on the 40-man roster after the first round of cuts were made in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft.
On the fringes of the 25 man roster, value is much more difficult to judge than we often recognize and decisions about such marginal players can be extremely complicated. Utility infielders, fourth and fifth outfielders, and backups are easy to overlook and to undervalue as we think about what starting players will contribute, but they can very quickly become starters and even in their backup roles, they need to bring the team value. Ryan Sweeney is not guaranteed to be a part of this team next April--he could easily be designated for assignment the next time a roster spot is needed-- but he still has real value and upside.
When the Red Sox acquired Sweeney, I was distinctly more positive about him than many other writers and fans. Sweeney is an easy player to underrate because he has almost no power at the plate and plays primarily corner outfield positions where the expectation for power hitting is high. He does a lot of things well though, including playing defense at all three outfield positions and running the bases. Those skills managed to keep him a hair above replacement level in 2012, despite a career-worst performance at the plate. At just 28-years-old, there's still hope for this bat and his other skills make him a solid choice as the fourth or fifth outfielder, especially given the defensive limitations of Daniel Nava and the newly-signed Jonny Gomes. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where Sweeney becomes an average near-everyday player (his struggles against lefties are severe enough to keep him sitting at least part time). This is not as easy a skill set to find as it might seem. In the right context, a player like Sweeney can be a very important part of a contending team. Just look at Gregor Blanco in
Even recognizing the value of Sweeney’s role, it seems that
Finally, there is Ryan Sweeney’s trade value to consider. Even if Sweeney will be the first name bumped from the roster when the Red Sox need room, he is still a useful piece in the trade market. Every team needs at least two players capable of handling center field and Sweeney is likely to cost close to what a free agent like Rick Ankiel or Reed Johnson would while providing more upside. There are more than a few cost-conscious teams that could use Sweeney and a few (like
Last season, Sweeney was a disappointment in many respects. Yet, he produced positive value. By Fangraph’s WAR-based pricing model, Sweeney was worth approximately $3.3 million last year, a number that, while subject to some of WAR’s year-to-year issues, is quite likely an accurate assessment of both his value and the cost Boston would need to pay to replace his production through free agency. The chance that this walk year, coming in the height of his prime, will be significantly better may actually make him a bargain in 2013. With all of focus on the hot stove and who will sign where this off-season, it is easy to overlook how difficult and impactful smaller procedural transactions can be. Keeping or releasing a player like Sweeney factors into the much larger issues of signing a Nick Swisher or a Mike Napoli and when games begin again in April, it will certainly matter. Teams are 25 men deep and value at the margins is still value.