Sweeney got off to a surprisingly torrid start in 2012, hitting .373 (25-for-67) through his first 19 games. After that, he fell back down to earth. The outfielder suffered a concussion while sprawling out for a ball in Philadelphia in May, and his numbers gradually declined until his season abruptly ended due to a hand injury he suffered while punching a door. Before the door mishap, Sweeney hit just .091 (3-for-33) in 11 July contests.
None of this screams optimism throughout much of Red Sox Nation when it comes to Sweeney, but general manager Ben Cherington has expressed a desire this offseason to add a left-handed outfielder to the mix, as such a player could presumably spell Jonny Gomes, who has fared much better against left-handers than right-handers throughout his big league career. Sweeney fits that mold, and with Ryan Kalish now requiring shoulder surgery that will keep him out for at least all of spring training, the need to add some outfield competition to the team’s spring training plans became even more important.
Ideally, the Red Sox would add someone who could play both the outfield and first base, as Boston still needs someone to back up Mike Napoli, or at least compete with the likes of Mauro Gomez and Mark Hamilton for that role. But Sweeney’s potential to hit for average against righties and ability to play fundamentally sound defense at all three outfield spots makes the relatively low-risk signing a no-brainer for Cherington. Sweeney can reportedly opt out of his contract if he doesn’t make the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster, so we could see the 27-year-old head down to Fort Myers with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, especially given the way his 2012 season ended.
There’s a chance Sweeney could fail to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster and thus end up elsewhere, but tossing a minor league deal his way in the hopes that he can regain some of the form he showed last April makes the signing a worthwhile move. That’s even more true because the signing could further push a guy like Hamilton, who signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox this offseason as well.
Hamilton is hardly a household name, and expectations are essentially nonexistent when it comes to the 28-year-old former second-round pick, but he fits that aforementioned left-handed first baseman/outfielder hybrid mold — although, unlike Sweeney, most of his experience resides in the infield. That could give Hamilton a leg up when it comes to evaluating players this spring, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can finally harness the talent that has actually turned him into a solid minor league hitter.
Hamilton, who has 47 games of big league experience (all with the Cardinals), is teetering on the edge of becoming a minor league lifer. He hasn’t made much of an impact when he’s gotten the occasional call-up, but his success at the plate down on the farm is enough to warrant at least some hope, especially with very few external options available to the Red Sox right now.
Hamilton had a rocky 2012 season, hitting just .231 with Triple-A Memphis, but he was dealing with a quad injury that limited him to just 90 games. Perhaps with his health restored, Hamilton will look more like the player who hit .345 while getting on base at a .439 clip in 252 Triple-A at-bats in 2011. In 2010, Hamilton hit .298 with a .391 on-base percentage, 20 home runs and 62 RBIs in 82 games (285 at-bats) split between Triple-A and rookie ball — numbers that aren’t anything to sneeze at, even if they did come against inferior competition.
Neither Sweeney nor Hamilton is going to be who/what shapes the Red Sox’ 2013 season, but as we’ve seen time and time again, injuries often come in bunches. With that in mind, a little added depth and some spring training competition never hurt anyone, and Sweeney will help bring both.
Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle.
Mark Hamilton photo (right) via Flickr/Keith Allison