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October 17, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Sweeney Swings a Deal

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed OF-R Travis Witherspoon off waivers from the Angels. [10/8]

It's not often a player with a .210/.295/.345 slash line gets claimed off waivers, and even rarer when those numbers came in Double-A. Yet the Mariners claimed Witherspoon based on his physical promise rather than his past performance. The 24-year-old is as fast as they come and shows more pop than the typical burner, though the question has been (and will continue to be) whether he'll make enough contact for the tools to play. So far the answer is no. There's a solid chance that continues to be the case, but the Mariners feel it's worth the waiver-claim fee to see if he can develop into an extra outfielder.

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed RHP Jason Frasor to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. [10/11]
Designated INF-R Jeff Baker for assignment. [10/9]

Texas originally signed Frasor to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last offseason. They got their money's worth and now they're going for seconds, signing the small righty to a similar deal with a slight pay increase. It's a reasonable deal on two levels: 1) the Rangers could use the extra stability with Joe Nathan potentially opting out of his contract and 2) Frasor showed something new in 2013.

Previously a pitcher with platoon issues, Frasor dominated left-handed hitters thanks to a new pitch mix that saw him use more splitters and sliders and fewer fastballs. The improved standing came over a small sample, leaving no guarantee about the new level of performance. Still, if it is, this could be a deal that looks better in 12 months than it does at the time of the signing.

Baker's designation is a formality, as he was heading for free agency anyway. What this does is clear a 40-man roster spot for the Rangers, and allows another team to claim Bakers off waiver; were a team to do so, they would inherit the exclusive negotiating window that precedes the market's opening. How valuable is that? No telling; though, if a team interested in Baker wants to prioritize him, then here's their opportunity.

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed OF-L Ryan Sweeney to a two-year deal worth $3.5 million with a club option that could push the deal's total value to $6 million. [10/8]

Sweeney's odd career continues. Once a top prospect who never lived up to the billing, he was included in the Andrew Bailey-Josh Reddick trade as a plausible platoon outfielder. That never materialized, and he found himself with Chicago in what seemed like a last chance. But Sweeney made good on the chance, posting impressive numbers despite not being platooned aggressively.

Anytime a player not known for his power produces an above-average ISO it's worth examining whether there were changes made to his mechanics. Sure enough, Sweeney changed a lot since his time in Boston; he raised his hand slot, added bend to his knees, and traded a toe-tapping stride for a high leg kick. None of that means he's unlocked his offensive potential, but it does mean there's something to fuel hope beyond 200-odd plate appearances.

The good news for Cubs fans concerned about committing to Sweeney is that the money involved is almost inconsequential. Ty Wigginton received $5 million guaranteed last winter to serve as a professional pinch-hitter, and Sweeney at least offers some defensive value by being able to stand-in at each outfield position. Even if he reverts back to his old ways, this deal isn't going to be costly—and, if he keeps on keeping on, then his contract becomes an asset.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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