Mark Sweeney Could Return to St. Louis

According to Sweeney's agent, Barry Axelrod, four teams are in the running for his client's services and according to insider sources, it appears the Cardinals may be one of those teams.

The 10 year major league veteran, 36 year old, Mark Sweeney could be making his way back to St. Louis next season.

The Cardinals will be looking for a left-handed bat to come off the bench and Sweeney could be the answer. He had another solid season as a bench/role player for San Diego last season, hitting .294 with eight home runs, 40 RBI and a .395 on-base percentage.

Sweeney began his major league baseball career with St. Louis in 1995. His contract was purchased from the Louisville Cardinals in August of that year and in his short stint with St. Louis, Sweeney as a pinch hitter went 8-for-15 (.533) with a .588 on-base percentage. He also had a pinch-hitting seven-game hitting streak from September 5-23, one game shy of the Major League single-season pinch-hitting record held by Dave Philley of the 1958 Phillies and Rusty Staub of the 1983 Mets.

In his first full big league season Sweeney made 35 starts for the Cardinals (26 in left field, six at first base, three in right field) and you could expect about the same starting opportunities with St. Louis in 2006, if he signs with the Cardinals. Sweeny ranked second on the club with nine pinch hits in 1996 and second in the National League with seven pinch-hit walks.

In 1997 Sweeney led the Major Leagues with 22 pinch hits batting .367. Mark pinched hit in 73 games, including 23 for St. Louis and 50 for San Diego.

Since 1997 Sweeney has played for the San Diego Padres (97, 98, 02, & 05), the Cincinnati Reds (99), the Milwaukee Brewers (00, 01) and the Colorado Rockies (03,04).

In his 10 year major league career Sweeney has appeared in 900 games and in 1356 at bats, he is hitting .262 with 35 home runs and 195 RBI.

Sweeney set career highs last season with the Padres, appearing in 135 games, and setting personal career marks with 221 at bats, 65 runs, 103 total bases, 40 walks and four stolen bases.

Padres manager Bruce Bochy, in response to a having a third dose of Sweeney's talents last season; "He's become more of a starter this time around," Bochy said of Sweeney, "He's always been more of a bench player and occasional starter, but he's been getting more than occasional starts here. I think he's having one of his best years."

Said Sweeney: "I didn't really expect to play as much as I have. I know what my role is, and that's to come off the bench. That's where my focus is. Obviously, you've got to pick your spots because I'm never really been an everyday guy. For me, I take it as, I've rested my whole career to this point, so I don't have the wear and tear on my body that other guys my age might have."

If the Cardinals sign Sweeney, his role will remain the same that he served with the Padres. A left-handed bat off the bench, who can make an occasional start at 1B, left or right field.

The scouting report on Sweeney is that he can hit and he can hit off the bench and that will be the key to his signing. He looks for a fastball and he has the bat speed to drive it to all fields. Right-handers can't get inside against him. He struggles against left-handers, though he hasn't had enough opportunity in the big leagues (79 at-bats in 10 years) to maintain any type of an edge and would not be expected to face leftys in St. Louis.

He is a solid average runner who can take the extra base and Sweeney found some way to steal four bases last season.

He is a solid hitter who will hit for average and has good bat speed and a very focused approach to hitting. He is willing to go with the pitch and uses the whole field, adding to his value as a pinch hitter.

The question about bringing a Sweeney to St. Louis is, does that mean super sub and all around great guy, John Mabry is gone again, for a third time?

Personally, I would hope not. Mabry can play first and third base, as well as the corner outfield positions. Mabry can serve as a third string catcher, in case of an emergency and he has even been called on to pitch a time or two, but if Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen drives you nuts, if Mabry takes the mound, head to the concession stands or to the kitchen and get a cold one.

You would never put Sweeney at third base and while he could play in right, he doesn't really have the arm for the position. So you can't expect him to take the place of the versatile Mabry on the roster.

Sweeney only made $575,000 last season compared to the $725,000 dollars Mabry made.

The Mets also considering signing Sweeney have offered him a substantial increase on his 2005 salary of $575,000, somewhere in the $800,000-$1 million range but a deal is reportedly not imminent.

It is possible, Sweeney could return to St. Louis next season.

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