Nick Swisher is a talented, big-money veteran with an actress wife, and he likes to generate attention and play under the bright lights of a major media market. The Cleveland Indians play in Cleveland, and they just lost 94 games, and last year their Opening Day payroll was under $70 million. On paper, Swisher and the Indians aren’t much of a fit, but that didn’t stop Swisher from signing a four-year contract with the Indians worth $56 million. A fifth-year vesting option would increase the value to $70 million. Few saw Cleveland being Swisher’s eventual destination, but recently the Indians put on the full-court press, and they were able to twist Swisher’s arm.
One thing that’s unclear is the nature of Swisher’s free-agent market. Publicly, there wasn’t much of a sweepstakes, so Swisher might not have had many alternatives. But this can be sold as Swisher opting to go home, since he was born in Columbus, went to high school in West Virginia, and went to college at Ohio State. To the average person, going to Cleveland would hold a certain amount of appeal; to Swisher, going to Cleveland would hold a higher amount of appeal, presumably. So there’s that angle at play.
The roster fit is easy, because the Indians recently dealt Shin-Soo Choo, and Swisher will simply replace him in right field. Choo would’ve left after the season, whereas Swisher could be around for a while. It’s funny what happens when you compare the two:
Swisher: 129 wRC+
Choo: 131 wRC+
Swisher: 11.9 WAR
Choo: 10.2 WAR
Swisher: 12% walks
Choo: 11% walks
Swisher: 21% strikeouts
Choo: 21% strikeouts
Nick Swisher and Shin-Soo Choo are hardly clones of one another, but they do have a lot in common, so the Indians shouldn’t miss Choo’s productivity going forward. To replace their departed right fielder, the Indians acquired a similar right fielder.
Overall, is Swisher worth a four-year, $56-million contract? Based on the Contract Crowdsourcing results, the FanGraphs audience projected that Swisher would land a…four-year, $56-million contract. Dave Cameron identified that as his top free-agent value. Said Dave in early November:
He’s the safest bet in the entire class, and a four year deal would only take him through age 35. If a team can actually get Swisher for 4/56, they should jump on it before the rest of the league realizes that they’re skipping out on a bargain.
Swisher’s a good player — he’s been a good player for a long time — and good players can and do cost $14 million a season. For whatever it’s worth, over the past four seasons, Swisher’s player page says he’s been worth about $66 million. Factor in some inflation to offset some decline and you have what looks like a perfectly reasonable deal.
But is Swisher worth this contract to an Indians team that doesn’t seem to be on the verge of contention? Recently, we defended the Cubs’ pursuit of Anibal Sanchez, and their acquisition of Edwin Jackson. A big part of the argument is that there’s value in improving the on-field product, even if you don’t make the playoffs, and you can never know when you might make the playoffs. Our team projections are not nearly as precise as one would like them to be. Last year, the Indians won just 68 games, but the year before that they won 80 games with a similar roster and they were within two games of the division lead in the middle of August. The Indians might not be close, but they might be closer than we think, and of course, Swisher isn’t under contract only for 2013.
Interestingly, something working in the Indians’ favor was that Swisher was extended a qualifying offer by the Yankees, but the Indians’ first-round draft pick is protected. While the Indians lose a pick for signing Swisher, they don’t lose as high a pick as another team would’ve, so the value of that lost pick is lower. The Indians, then, could put together a stronger contract offer.
When it comes to Swisher’s skillset, there are questions about his defense, and he isn’t a burner on the basepaths. His value comes from his above-average on-base ability and his above-average power. Swisher is a switch-hitter, and what I find most interesting is how his platoon splits break down:
Swisher has historically been productive from both sides, but he’s been differently productive in different ways. Batting righty against lefties, Swisher has walked as often as he’s struck out, and he’s hit for slightly above-average power. Batting lefty against righties, Swisher has struck out twice as often as he’s walked, and he’s hit for far more power. Swisher has hit 47 home runs batting right-handed, and he’s pulled 45 of them. He’s hit 162 home runs batting left-handed, and he’s pulled 105 of them. From the right side, Swisher’s a pure pull guy, while he can spray the ball better as a lefty.
We have a little more PITCHf/x data going back to 2008:
As a righty, Swisher’s been more selective, and he’s been better about making contact. These numbers were suggested by the earlier numbers, but here we get confirmation.
If you’re wondering, this is what Swisher’s swings look like, or at least this is what Swisher’s swings looked like once:
In New York, Swisher’s home stadium was far more friendly to lefty hitters than righty hitters. In Cleveland, Swisher’s home stadium will be far more friendly to lefty hitters than righty hitters. It’s less friendly to both, but we can account for park effects, now. Progressive Field won’t alter Swisher’s overall value as a player.
One thing you can’t do with Swisher is just assume he’ll remain consistent, since he’s been consistent. The fact that he’s been the same player four years in a row doesn’t mean he’ll be the same player in 2013 or 2014, because consistency isn’t nearly as predictive as one might imagine. A consistent player is consistent only up until he is not anymore. Hell, if Swisher’s so consistent, what happened to him in 2008? This isn’t to say that Swisher’s consistency is a bad thing, though, and as projections are concerned, Swisher’s are favorable. Because he’s been good, he should stay pretty good over the life of this contract. Over the life of this contract, maybe the Indians will become pretty good, too. I’m sure they’d like that.
Nick Swisher is a former Yankee with an actress wife, and he’s committed himself and his family to Cleveland, Ohio. Little about this outcome was predictable, but Swisher found his money in a familiar environment, and the Indians got themselves a potential bargain. As Christmas presents go, those are better than socks, unless they’re like really sweet socks.