CEDAR RAPIDS – It might be Boston. It might not be Boston.
Ryan Sweeney doesn’t know.
“It’s a weird situation for me,” said the Cedar Rapids resident and Boston Red Sox outfielder Monday afternoon.
That’s Boston Red Sox outfielder for the time being. Who knows where he’ll be when spring training begins in late February.
Sweeney is salary arbitration eligible for the second year in a row. He made $1.75 million on a one-year deal this season.
The Red Sox have until Dec. 2 to offer him a 2013 contract. If they don’t, he’s a free agent.
“I talked to (General Manager) Ben (Cherington) after the season, and he said he’d be in touch,” Sweeney said. “One of a few things will happen. They could tender me a contract, they could tender me a contract and trade me, or they could outright release me.
“I don’t worry about it. I just know I’m going to play somewhere. Hopefully it’ll work out in Boston, but we’ll see. This game changes so quickly.”
As Sweeney, 27, has found out in his five-plus years in the big leagues. He was involved in a trade last December (the second of his career) that sent him and relief pitcher Andrew Bailey from the Oakland Athletics to Boston.
Regularly banging balls the other way over and off the Green Monster seemed like a distinct possibility for Sweeney, a left-handed hitter known for his all-fields approach. But he played in just 63 games, hitting .260 in 204 at-bats with no home runs and 16 RBIs.
Injuries foiled him, as he spent time on the disabled list with a concussion (after diving for a ball and smacking his head on the warning track in Philadelphia), inflammation in his left big toe and a broken left hand.
It was that latter injury that made significant national news, as Sweeney broke the knuckle on his pinky finger after punching a dugout door at Fenway Park in frustration following a groundout in a late July game. It was a symbolic injury for a Red Sox team that drastically underachieved and ended up trading away several of its veteran players in a miserable 69-93 season.
“Basically it was just being frustrated by a lack of playing time,” Sweeney said. “I’d had 17 at-bats after the all-star break, I was struggling at the plate. I hit a ball in the hole, and the second baseman made a diving stop. I just got (mad). I’ve never been one to do something like that. I actually hit the door with both of my hands, but I’m left-handed, so I must have hit it harder with my left hand.”
Sweeney was contrite at the time, apologizing in the media and again on Twitter the following day.
“It is what it is,” he said.
This was the first time for him playing regularly for a big-market team, and it was a learning experience, he said. Unnamed Red Sox players complained early in the season about first-year Manager Bobby Valentine, and that controversy dogged the team all summer.
Valentine was fired immediately after the season. For his part, Sweeney said he had no issues with his skipper or any of his Red Sox teammates.
“All the guys in the clubhouse were great,” he said. “I had no problems at all. I learned a lot from guys like David (Ortiz) and Adrian (Gonzalez), left-handed hitters like me. But you know, it is kind of tough to learn from guys like that just because it comes so easy to them.”
Sweeney said dealing with the Boston media was a learning experience as well.
“I don’t care what they say about you as a player. We all suck at times. But sometimes they would question your character or who you are as a person. They don’t know me, you know?” Sweeney said. “I’ve known (former Red Sox player) Nomar Garciaparra for awhile, and he gave me one good piece of advice about playing in Boston. He said don’t watch the TV (news) there, don’t read the papers, don’t listen to the radio. Just go out and play. That’s what I tried to do.”
The irony about Sweeney’s 2012 mostly lost season is that his old team did so well. Oakland stunned the baseball world with a late rally that gave it the American League Western Division championship.
The A’s are down two games to Detroit in an AL divisional playoff series.
“Andrew Bailey and I are happy for them,” he said. “The thing is you are where you are, and you try to win where you are.”
Where he’s at next season has yet to be determined.