Nick Swisher Signs With Indians

Nick Laham

The Indians have themselves a new right fielder.

Nick Swisher has reportedly agreed to a 4-year deal, worth $56 million, with a vesting option for a fifth year at an additional $14 million (the option is said to be based on 2016 plate appearances, likely meaning that if he's healthy and productive enough to play even semi-regularly in year 4, year 5 will vest) . This is the largest free agent signing in franchise history and if the 2017 option winds up vesting, it will be the largest contract of any type the team has handed out. As per the CBA, the Indians will lose their second-round draft pick in exchange for signing a player with a qualifying offer from his former team.

Swisher will play right field, but also has experience at first base and it's certainly possible that by the third or fourth year of the deal, that's where he's playing for the Tribe. For now, Swisher should be expected to replace Shin-Soo Choo's production. Swisher is two years older than Choo, but the two of them have been fairly similar players over the last few years.

From 2010-2012:

Player

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

RC+

Nick Swisher

8.4

11.9

125

129

Shin-Soo Choo

10.2

10.2

132

131

The two also have very similar walk and strikeout rates. Swisher has better power numbers, but largely due to playing in Yankee Stadium instead of Progressive field. Choo has been the better base runner, while defensive metrics tend to favor Swisher (each players' defense has been rated as poor according to the vision test of multiple LGT readers).

$56 (or $70) million is certainly a lot of money, particularly for a team with Cleveland's budget, and Swisher is old enough (he just turned 32) that there's plenty of reason to be concerned about how this might play out. Current free cost/production analyses tend to place the price of a free agent at ~$5.5 million per WAR, meaning that Swisher would need to produce a WAR of 10 over the next four years to be worth this signing. That's all based on 2011 and 2012 money though.

Every team will receive an additional $25+ million from new national TV contracts in 2014 and the Indians' local contract could rise soon too. In the coming player market, $14 million a year isn't going to be worth what it used to be. That 5.5 WAR multiplier has steadily risen over the years, and should be expected to continue rising. The TV money will likely boost it to something like $6.5 million per WAR by 2014 and then higher and higher. Looked at in that light, there's a good chance Swisher need provide something closer to just 8 WAR over the next four years.

Many will question whether the break-even point for MLB teams in general should really be applied to a small market team like the Indians, who perhaps needs to do "better" than average on such signings. I suspect that while an average WAR of 2 over the next four years might make the math look reasonable, most Tribe fans wouldn't feel happy with it.

Usually when analysts cite the $5.5 million per WAR figure to measure the quality of a contract, they also refer to the average drop in production that comes from most players in their thirties, a fall of 0.5 WAR per year is roughly the norm. Baseball-Reference had Swisher with a WAR of 3.5 for 2012, Fangraphs had him with 3.9. Split the difference at put him at 3.7 and factor in that average decline and you arrive at:

2013: 3.2

2014: 2.7

2015: 2.2

2016: 1.7

Total: 9.8 (or 11.0 if the option vests and he puts up 1.2 in 2017)

So, the standard projection says this contract is right in line with 2012 valuations, and once the market climbs, this would look better than average. We're years away from knowing for sure though. The roster still doesn't look like that of a playoff team (and I understand why many will question a team like the Indians spending so much money when they're still likely at least a couple years away from contending), but between bringing in Terry Francona, acquiringTrevor Bauer, the modest signing of Mark Reynolds, and this big addition, I think this has been the Tribe's most successful off-season in years. And this week, I'm just going to let myself enjoy that.

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