Sweeney returns to Mariners on Minors deal

Sweeney returns to Mariners on Minors deal

SEATTLE -- The Mariners brought back a key clubhouse component from their dramatic 2009 turnaround, signing veteran designated hitter Mike Sweeney to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

"I'm thrilled to be back in Seattle," said Sweeney, who said he had gel shots for his achy knees two weeks ago. "I'm feeling great. Ever since I carried Ken Griffey Jr. off the field on my shoulders on the last day of the season, I've wanted to be back as a Seattle Mariner."

That will not be easy for Sweeney in 2010, and he knows it. The club re-signed Griffey to be a DH, traded for switch-hitter Milton Bradley, who should get a healthy amount of at-bats at DH, signed right-handed hitter Ryan Garko to back up and possibly platoon with Casey Kotchman at Sweeney's other position, first base, and inked right-handed-hitting Eric Byrnes to play left field and pinch hit.

Sweeney said he discussed with manager Don Wakamatsu the possibility of filling in at first and even taking reps in the outfield in Peoria, Ariz., to show the club that he has some versatility, but he realizes the difficulty of the situation ahead of him.

"Even though the opportunity may not be easy, it's still an opportunity to come into camp, and the goal is to make the people around me better," said Sweeney, who said two other clubs were interested in bringing him in on a similar deal.

"I'd like to think that last year I had a positive effect on the clubhouse and individual guys like Russell Branyan. I'd like to do that this year with guys like [Ryan] Garko and [Casey] Kotchman ... and even Milton Bradley.

"Whether I'm a Seattle Mariner for the next six weeks or the next two years, I'll always be grateful for the 2009 season and the love I had for guys in that clubhouse."

Sweeney did prove that he has something left in the bat that made him a five-time All-Star and career .298 hitter with 207 homers and 883 RBIs in 1,398 games over 15 seasons.

Sweeney, 36, hit .281 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 74 games with the Mariners last season while enduring a trip to the disabled list because of back spasms. But once fully healthy, he hit .381 with four home runs and 15 RBIs over his last 25 games, and his average from Aug. 20 to the end of the season was the second-highest in the Majors with a minimum of 90 plate appearances. Sweeney also hit .455 as a pinch-hitter, which tied for the highest in the AL with a minimum of 10 plate appearances.

That's one reason he said he wants to play in 2010, and if it doesn't work out with the Mariners, he will try to fit in with another big league club.

He said after the Mariners' 2009 season ended, he went fishing at Seattle head trainer Rick Griffin's cabin in Montana for five days and has been "working out non-stop since then."

"I feel like I'm in tremendous physical shape," Sweeney said. "The easy way out would be to look in the mirror and say, 'You know what? There's not a great opportunity, and just shut it down and spend time with your wife and kids.' But I look at myself as a fighter.

"I'm going into camp with truly a sense of freedom and a sense of fire. I know it's an uphill battle, but you know what? I like battles. Last year was the most enjoyable year of my career and I'd like to build on that."

The Mariners now have 63 players reporting to Major League Spring Training (40 players on the 40-man roster and 23 non-roster invitees). Pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout next Thursday, Feb. 18, in Peoria, and the first full-squad workout will be held Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.