The first Best of Burning River Baseball article for Nick Swisher Day has to be the first ever written about Swisher in the history of the site. I wrote this prior to him actually signing and it came out on December 12th, 2012. In addition to a reprinting of the original article, in italics, there is new commentary on the original that is written in red, added into the original post.
There have been rumors going around for weeks now that the Cleveland Indians are interested in acquiring the services of former Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher. Of course, this had to be the one time the rumors were true. The latest rumors say that Swisher has visited Cleveland and met with Chris Antonetti and was offered a deal worth more than $50 million for the next four seasons. After years of claiming poverty it is inexplicable where the Indians are coming up with this kind of money for a very average outfielder that has already passed his prime. They raised this point again when they refused to give Justin Masterson a fair market extension this March, a move that now appears intelligent on the Indians part. When offering amounts of this level, what the team really has to focus on in how many actual extra wins a player will provide for the money offered. In this case, the Indians have a few true replacement level players available to play right field (including Ezequiel Carrera [gone] and until yesterday, Russ Canzler [gone]), so judging Swisher against a replacement level player is fair. Any replacement level player used by the Indians would likely be paid league minimum for 2013 in order to provide a fair comparison. Carrera played just two games in 2013, but Matt Carson and Ryan Raburn played the majority of time in the outfield and were payed the league minimum.
We rarely discuss WAR (wins above replacement) on this site, but in this situation, it is the most applicable stat there is. Since joining the Yankees in 2009, Swisher has averaged 2.5 wins above replacement each season (the best season in his career was 4.1 during his age 26 season in Oakland 2.8 WAR in 2013 and -0.3 in 2014). As Swisher gets older and further away from the numbers of his prime seasons, we can expect his value to decrease even more. Assuming the production Swisher gave to the Yankees, the Indians would be paying Swisher almost $5M for each win above replacement. This was actually $3.93 per win in 2013 as the contract escalates. He is making $15M for 2014 and has a negative WAR to this point. Assuming Carrera (.5 WAR in 2012) is the replacement right fielder, he would be paid about $1M for each extra win. It was unknown at the time, but Raburn ended up being the replacement level right fielder, with Drew Stubbs getting most of the playing time. He earned $1M for his 2.2 WAR, equating to less than half a million per win.
The fact is that a win is a win, however much you pay for it. While most of the moves the Indians have made this year have been great (especially the Esmil Rodgers and Trevor Bauer trades), this is going too far. This is the most prescient statement in the article as Yan Gomes has become a starter and Mike Aviles a quality reserve. Bauer is also starting to shape up while Choo is now a Ranger. A small free agent market and pressure from the fans (the same fans that loved Swisher when this came out) are forcing the Indians to make the same mistakes they make year after year. Every season the Indians make mistakes in the free agent market, over paying for players they don’t need, but giving $50 million to Nick Swisher could be the biggest mistake in team history. Travis Hafner barely made as much per season with his extension after he hit 42 home runs in a single season and Swisher hasn’t hit more than 30 since 2006. He his 22 in 2014 and has five in 2014. This contract would saddle the Tribe with an unnecessary contract for the next four seasons, crippling their ability to resign players and making Swisher impossible to trade in two years when his talent diminishes to the level it almost surely will. This is another great prediction although it happened a year early. While the Indians wouldn’t admit it, they would now love to be rid of Swisher and his giant contract, but will have a very difficult time finding a trade partner.
It isn’t too late. Now it is. The Indians need to retract their offer to Swisher and move to acquire another outfielder through trade (they signed Raburn and Michael Bourn as a free agents instead) or look internally for another option. They are out of their depth offering such a gigantic contract to such a mediocre player. Swisher is not the answer on his own to bringing the Indians back to the World Series, but if they sign him to that contract, he will be the only player they will be able to add. This was incorrect as great buy low deals brought in both Raburn and Scott Kazmir while Bourn signed another mega deal. It was bad enough the Indians had to trade Shin-Soo Choo because they couldn’t afford to resign him. He signed a six year, $117M deal with Texas, taking him through his age 37 season, a deal that will almost certainly backfire even worse than the Swisher signing. It will be worse when they can’t sign Jason Kipnis to a long-term deal because they are still saddled with a terrible contract with Nick Swisher. We end with another falsehood. The Indians pocketbooks were vastly underestimated as they were able to re-sign not only Kipnis, but Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes to very long term deals. In whole, the front office has still been trying to build a team capable of winning the World Series, but they are doing this in spite of Swisher, not because of him.