First Impressions on the Swisher Signing

Jed Jacobsohn

It's been just a couple hours since the story broke, and there's some details yet to emerge, but for now let's go with what we have.

The Contract

The Indians haven't annouced the deal, as it's dependent on a post-holidays physical, but most places are reporting that the deal is 4 years/$56M with a vesting option for a fifth year; Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News was first with the story. According to Jordan Bastian, that vesting option triggers if Swisher meets some plate appearance threshold in 2016, and although I haven't seen any details, most reporters are saying that that threshold is easily reachable. So it looks like that rather than a four-year deal with a option, we should be looking at this contract as a five-year, $70M deal with a team out if he has a career-ending injury.

Even if that fifth year doesn't vest, this contract marks the biggest free agent signing in club history by quite a bit. In terms of years the Wayne Garland deal will probably always be the longest, but until now the biggest free agent signing in terms of dollars was the Roberto Alomar contract, which was roughly 4 years/$28M. The Swisher deal as presented right now would be double that contract. The Hafner extension still tops this deal, but barely; the Indians paid Pronk $57M when they re-worked his existing contract in 2007. If you consider Swisher's fifth year virtually guaranteed, the deal would be the largest in terms of dollars to any player in team history.

The Player

Nick Swisher is going to be 32 in 2013, so the Indians will be paying Swisher through at least his Age 35 season, and very likely through his Age 36 season. The good news is that Swisher has been very durable throughout his major-league career; his 148 games played in 2012 marked the lowest amount since 2005. Last season he played 109 games in right field, 41 games at first base, and 12 games at DH. He has played some center field in the past, but that's out of the question at this stage of his career.

In addition to his durability, Swisher also brings a couple other nice things to the table. In his four years in New York, he's been a very productive hitter, averaging a 124 OPS+ over the last four seasons. Excepting his one season in Chicago (2008), he's had at least a 120 OPS+ each season since 2006. As a hitter, he combines on-base percentage with power, and does both from both sides of the plate; as a right-handed hitter, he has a career line of .270/.402/.441, and as a left-handed hitter hits .250/.342/.478. For those who are thinking that Swisher was a product of Yankee Stadium's short porch, consider this: in 2012, he hit for less power at home (.464) than on the road (.482).

Swisher is a below-average defender in right field from both a range and arm strength perspective. He's not going to throw the ball away on throws to the plate, but he also probably won't be gunning down base runners trying to go from first to third. Swisher is also a below-average to poor base runner in both speed and decision-making. Over the course of this contract, I'd expect both defense and base running to get worse, and would also expect that he transition to first base or DH over the latter portion of the deal.

The Big Picture

Swisher is not going to make the Indians a contender by himself, but with little help on the horizon from the farm system, he isn't going to block anyone. Had the Indians not signed Swisher, they probably would have tried to sign or trade for someone else to play right field; they weren't going to start the season with Ezequiel Carrera or Tim Fedroff or Thomas Neal in right field. Swisher should be able to replace Shin-Soo Choo's offensive production in right field, though he'll represent a big drop off in base running; defense I'll call a slight downgrade, UZR notwithstanding. If they had a choice between extending Choo and signing Swisher, they'd take Choo in a heartbeat. But they weren't going to extend Choo, so dealing him for Bauer and signing Swisher was about as good of a backup plan as you can get.

One other facet of the deal that helped the Indians land Swisher; had a club picking below 10th in next year's draft signed Swisher, they would have given up their first round pick as the Yankees had made a qualifying offer to him. But because the Indians are picking in the top 10 in next year's draft, their first round pick is protected; they will, however, lose their second round pick (#42). They are also getting pick #69 via the Competitive Balance Lottery, so that mitigates losing #42 somewhat.

Well, those are my first impressions. The Indians won't make the signing official until after the physical, which might not be until after the holidays, so I'll hold off on the mega-breakdown until then. But I will be making updates as more information comes to light.

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