The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE
A writer familiar with Nick Swisher's ups and downs pleads with the Red Sox to avoid making the same mistake as their rivals
Forget the vastly disappointing season, the chaotic Bobby Valentine clubhouse, Daniel Bard's continuing presence on the team. Don't be concerned by Baltimore's unlikely revival or the rising threat from north of the border as the Toronto Blue Jays use the Miami Marlins as their personal expansion draft. Just take a moment to sit back, relax, and savor the moment as the Yankees suffer from a painfully self-inflicted wound by refusing to re-sign right fielder Nick Swisher. Even better, dream on the Red Sox signing him, in one blow confirming the Yankees in their folly and improving themselves at their rival's expense.
Having watched Swisher act the part of the least-serious Yankee for the last four years, this thought might be anathema to you. That would be a mistake. Swisher's goofy enthusiasm may wear on you when he's not on your team, but it's endearing when he is. That doesn't mean he won't annoy you for other reasons, even as you're cheering him on. You're going to be frequently alarmed by his esoteric routes in the outfield, even if they result in a catch most of the time. He's frustratingly streaky, seemingly forgetting how to hit for long periods; he averaged .284/.355/.617 in April of 2012 and .207/.245/.322 in May. That's not unusual for him. He'll alternate periods where he hits like Miguel Cabrera (for example, averaging .324/.421/.575 in June-July, 2011) and periods where he hits like Miguel Cabrera's anemic little brother, the one they don't let out of the basement when company calls (.213/.335/.314 in April-May of that same season).
There's more you're going to have to accept. He sometimes loses track of his stroke from one side of the plate or the other, but generally speaking he's a true switch-hitter, more of a power threat from the left side of the plate, more likely to walk from the right side. Oh -- and if the Red Sox are fortunate enough to return to the postseason, you'll have to do your best to just put Swisher out of your mind -- hitting in the playoffs is not among his skills.
Sure, all of the foregoing can make you tear your hair out, but if the Red Sox do get back, chances are they wouldn't have had a shot at October baseball without his contribution.
Since 2006, Swisher has been one of the most consistent players in the majors, good for about three offensive wins (as per bWAR) every year except 2008, when an inexplicably severe home-road split and a personality conflict with Ozzie Guillen ruined his season. A .264/.370/.480 hitter in his non-Ozzie years, Swisher has averaged 32 doubles, 27 home runs, and 87 walks during those seasons. Swisher's overall OPS+ from his good years (again, 2006 through 2012, excluding 2008) works out to 125. Now look at his OPS+ year by year: 125, 126, 122, 129, 120, and 126. He's baseball's most comical atomic clock. As long as he's healthy, you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get -- and he hasn't been on the disabled list since 2005.
The Yankees aren't re-signing Swisher because they're on an austerity kick so as to get their payroll down to $189 million by 2014 and also because he's difficult to evaluate. Rumors during the season suggested he'd be in pursuit of a Jayson Werth contract (seven years, $126 million). Now, Swisher is good, and he doesn't have Werth's injury problems or inconsistency (nor his defensive abilities), but that doesn't mean he's worth duplicating Mike Rizzo's notorious overpay. Swisher will turn 32 later this month. Unlike Werth, he's slow now, and his defense, though presently acceptable, won't stay that way forever. His selectivity and power should continue to serve him well as he ages, but as a hitter with "old players' skills," his batting average likely won't survive the transition into baseball's version of old age. If you sign him to a long-term contract, what do you do when, a year or two in, you have a 33-year-old, .230-hitting DH who is being paid $8 or $10 million a year? Whether Swisher is ultimately a good buy or not depends on his flexibility in terms of years.
Let me pause here to acknowledge the obvious: I am the proprietor of the Pinstriped Bible -- in other words, a Yankees guy. However, that doesn't mean I'm concern trolling Red Sox fans. I'm not doctrinaire about this stuff. I've never seen any reason to hate the Red Sox other than for the institutionalized racism of the Yawkey years, and that was over a long time ago. Rather, I've admired the way the team was put together and run under their current ownership from 2004 up until, well, the beer and fried chicken fiasco of 2011. That's why when they finally won their first championship since the Dark Ages I was excited to put together the book Mind Game on the making of the 2004 team.
This message comes from the heart, that bitter place where I nurture my hatred of self-destructive baseball decisions. As someone who follows the Yankees, I'm going to be very sorry to see Swisher go, because barring a trade for an impact bat as yet unrumored, they're simply not going to replace his production, never mind his enthusiasm. The fanbase seems to have bought into the idea that Ichiro Suzuki's comeback was real and that he should be retained. Those fans are in for a rude awakening; although Ichiro has Swisher licked when it comes to fielding and baserunning, he's not the hitter that Swisher is and hasn't been for years. As I recently wrote over at the PB, "If you like OPS, Ichiro has a career .784, Swisher .814. If you want that league- and park-adjusted, it's 113 for Ichiro, 118 for Swisher. If you prefer wOBA it's .339 for Ichiro, .359 for Swisher. True Average? .284 for Ichiro, .288 for Swisher."
Again, if the Yankees are determined to be stupid, it's an opportunity for the Red Sox to be smart.
"My whole philosophy about this thing, man, there's so much stress put on winning and losing, stuff like that, sometimes I feel like people kind of forget the reason why we play this game: Because we love it!" Swisher says. "Brad Fisher, a coach in Oakland, told me, ‘As long as you put that uniform on, you have a lifetime pass to be a kid.' And it's so true! When I take that field, and the place is packed, I feel like a little kid running out there, dude! People come to games expecting to see the Nick Swisher Show. Well, they're gonna get it!"
After all the grumbling around the Red Sox the last couple of years, couldn't they use a little of that? The Yankees sure could. That is, they will need it, starting next spring.