SEATTLE (AP) — Five-time All-Star Mike Sweeney is back with the Mariners. And he's a long shot.
The 15-year veteran was told in 1999 he wouldn't stick with the Kansas City Royals. He was told in 2008 he wouldn't make the Oakland Athletics. He was told by Seattle last year had little chance to stay there. Yet on Friday he agreed to a minor league contract that keeps him with the Mariners.
Seattle announced the popular 36-year-old has been invited to spring training.
If added to the 40-man roster, Sweeney would get a $650,000, one-year contract. He could earn an additional $400,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $50,000 each for 250, 300 and 350, $100,000 apiece for 400 and 450, and $150,000 for 500.
The designated hitter made the Mariners' roster last year under the same arrangement. Then he teamed with Ken Griffey Jr. to transform the clubhouse from a bickering mess to a rollicking place. Even previously reclusive superstar Ichiro Suzuki became a happy prankster as the Mariners went from 101 losses to 85-77.
"Last year was the most enjoyable year of my career," Sweeney said on conference call from his home in San Diego. "Ever since I carried Ken Griffey Jr. off the field on my shoulders the last day of the season, I wanted to be back as a Seattle Mariner."
The former star with Kansas City said he had opportunities to sign with two other teams, perhaps with better chances of making a roster than general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu have given him in Seattle.
"They've made it clear to me that it's going to be an uphill battle to make the team," Sweeney said.
He's heard that before, starting on July 22, 1973. That day in Orange, Calif., doctors told Sweeney's parents that their son, born two months premature, had a 50 percent chance to live through his first night.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has flourished ever since. He's made more than $72 million in the majors, including the $500,000 bargain Seattle got him for last year, to play the game he's not yet ready to leave.
Two weeks ago, he took gel shots into an achy knee for lubrication, to be ready for his 19th spring training in professional baseball.
"I like to think of myself as a fighter," Sweeney said. "And come April 1 if I'm not coming north it may be a bitter pill to swallow, but at least I can live my life in freedom knowing that I played the game the right way, I played it hard. I definitely won't have any regrets, nor will I wonder 'what if.'"
Sweeney hit .281 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 74 games last season. He missed 11 games in July because of back spasms, then hit .381 over his last 25 games.
Zduriencik discussed a possible coaching role for Sweeney after the season. Then the GM learned how much Sweeney still wants to play for the Mariners.
"He was an integral part of the 2009 season and we look forward to him competing for a spot on the roster this season," Zduriencik said.
A year ago Sweeney made the Mariners largely because Wakamatsu was a coach with Oakland the year Sweeney was there and valued the veteran's leadership.
Sweeney's hoping the manager still feels that way.
"My goal is to make the people around me better. I'd like to think that last year I had a positive effect on not just the clubhouse, but individually — guys like Russell Branyan," Sweeney said of the journeyman first baseman who had a career year with 31 home runs for the Mariners in 2009.
"Even though I hoped for maybe a little bit better opportunity earlier in the offseason, I'm thrilled to be back in Seattle."
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.