On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians moved on from their failure to sign Shane Victorino by setting their sights on another free agent outfielder: Nick Swisher. As of Thursday morning, the Indians are still in on Swisher—they’ve even dispatched Terry Francona to help recruit him.
It’s not clear exactly what the market for Swisher would be like. Speculation on the kind of contract he might get has ranged from the four-year, $44 million deal the Tribe offered Victorino to a guaranteed sum in the neighborhood of $70 million; given that most of the Swisher’s other potential suitors have already moved on other players, I’d expect he’ll have to settle for a deal towards the lower end. And if the Indians can snag him for, say, four years and $50 million, they should absolutely do it.
First and foremost, Swisher is a very good player. In 2012 he hit .272/.364/.473 (128 wRC+) with 24 home runs and 93 RBI while playing solid defense in right field and at first base in 148 games with the Yankees. At 3.9 wins above replacement (FanGraphs model), Swisher would have been the Indians’ best player last year had he spent the season in a Cleveland uniform. So there’s no question he’s an impact talent.
Another of Swisher’s attributes is his consistency. In his four years with the Yankees his numbers have been remarkably stable—between 23 and 29 home runs, 82 and 93 RBI, between 124 and 135 wRC+. Look at his wins above replacement over the last three seasons: 4.1, 3.8, 3.9. A single bad contract can derail a small-market team’s plans (Travis Hafner ring a bell?), so Cleveland can’t afford to take a big risk. Nothing’s certain in baseball, but Swisher is a much safer bet than Victorino or Kevin Youkilis.
Finally, Swisher would be a perfect addition to the Tribe’s current roster. He’s a switch-hitter who historically has had better success against southpaw pitchers, which would be a big boon to Cleveland’s lefty-heavy lineup. He’s a right fielder by trade so the Indians wouldn’t have to worry about filling that hole if they trade Shin-Soo Choo, and his versatility (he can play first base quite well) could facilitate a multi-position platoon between, say, Russ Canzler and Tim Fedroff. And with a four-year deal, he’d (hopefully) still be around the next time the Indians find themselves in the playoff hunt.
Should Cleveland break the bank for Swisher? No. If the bidding really does get up to the $70 million range that would be far too much for a small-market team to commit to anyone who isn’t a bona fide star. But if the price is reasonable the Indians should swoop in to close the deal as soon as possible—Swisher would be too good a fit to let him get away.