The invitation to spring training as a non-roster invitee is beginning to seem a February tradition to Mike Sweeney, who got one Friday from the Seattle Mariners.
At 36 and coming off a year in which he batted .281, Sweeney wasn’t hoping for a lucrative contract this winter. All he wanted was the opportunity to continue a major league career now 1,398 games long.
He received one from Seattle, but was under no illusion.
“My chances are slimmer this year than they were last spring,” Sweeney said. “I had the chance to go to camp with two other teams, but this was a no-brainer. It’s an opportunity. It may not be easy, but my goal is to make the people around me better.”
Without question, general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu thought Sweeney had that effect in the Mariners clubhouse in 2009.
“He’s a force of nature,” said Wakamatsu, who acknowledged that last spring he asked for one player – Sweeney.
The veteran right-handed hitter held up his end at the plate, batting .281 as a part-time designated hitter and occasional pinch hitter. This spring, when versatility is an issue – can the team have Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. on a roster when neither can play in the field? – Sweeney is optimistic.
“I talked to Don and told him, ‘I have my third baseman glove, I’ll play the outfield.’ ... They know I can hit,” he said.
“I like to think I had an impact last year. With the new guys in camp, (Casey) Kotchman, (Ryan) Garko, even Milton Bradley, I’d like the chance to embrace them this year.”
Most likely, Sweeney will come to camp, play in exhibition games and – at best – get a chance to sign on elsewhere with a big-league team near the end of spring training. He’s aware of that.
“Whether it’s for the next six weeks or next two years, I’ll always be grateful for the 2009 season and the love I had for the guys in that clubhouse,” he said. “Last year was the most enjoyable of my career. When I walk away, I want to leave no stone unturned. I don’t want to live the rest of my life looking back.
“Jack made it clear, if I wasn’t going to make the Mariners he’d do everything in his power to put me on a big-league club somewhere else if there’s interest.”
For a team that’s been built around pitching and defense, Sweeney is no longer a viable option at first base – and the thought of him and Jose Lopez manning the right side of the infield might give Seattle pitchers nightmares.
Still, Sweeney has always hit: his .298 career average includes 207 home runs an 883 RBI, playing for Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle. In each of the last three springs, he has gone to one camp or another as a non-roster invitee.
“I don’t want to step away. I want to continue playing. My focus is on playing. If I’m not on the team April 3, not in the big leagues, I’ll be home with wife and kids. This will work out. I believe that,” he said.
Lincecum signs for $23M
Former University of Washington standout Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants avoided salary arbitration, reaching a preliminary agreement on a $23 million, two-year contract that gives the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner a huge raise.
The lean right-hander with a high leg kick and stringy hair had asked for an arbitration-record $13 million. The Giants offered $8 million to the two-time All-Star, eligible for arbitration for the first time after making $650,000.
Lincecum gets a $2 million signing bonus, $8 million this year, $13 million in 2011 and the chance to earn performance bonuses.
Frank Thomas announced his retirement after a 19-season career in which he hit 521 homers and won two American League MVP awards with the Chicago White Sox. The five-time All-Star, who didn’t play last year, batted .301 with a .419 on-base average and 1,704 RBI. ... Outfielder Corey Hart beat Milwaukee in the first arbitration decision of the year, getting a raise from $3.25 million to $4.8 million rather than the Brewers’ offer of $4.15 million. ... Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and Baltimore agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract that avoided a hearing. He made $650,000 last year. ... Second baseman Adam Kennedy and Washington finalized a $1.5 million, one-year contract and right-hander Kip Wells agreed to a minor league deal with Cincinnati.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.