Free agent Nick Swisher is in Cleveland today as the Indians will try to woo him in a way that their contract offer apparently has yet to do. The market for Swisher is reportedly quite strong, and now that the Texas Rangers are short an outfielder after Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels it may have gotten stronger. The Indians are still strongly pursuing Swisher, but in the wake of some recent events it seems as though enthusiasm for bringing him aboard has waned.
In the aftermath of last week’s three-way Shin-Soo Choo-centered blockbuster, I’ve seen it suggested that it’s no longer in the Tribe’s best interest to sign Swisher. Great though the Choo trade was, a team that just lost 94 games isn’t going to inspire confidence for the season ahead by trading its best hitter; thus, it doesn’t make sense to take a big step towards rebuilding, then turn around and splurge on a top-tier free agent.
That logic makes sense, but it isn’t taking the whole picture into account. Though the situation is different now than it was a week ago, Swisher would still be a great fit for Cleveland—perhaps even more so than he would have been before.
First off, it’s important to note that the 2013 Indians don’t look that much worse than they did before the Choo trade. I know I’m more bullish than most on Drew Stubbs, but his solid glove and phenomenal speed make him a far more valuable player than most people realize. I’m not saying he’ll be as good as Choo next year, but assuming (as I do) that his bat will rebound he’ll at least be in the same league. Throw in the potential domination we could see from Trevor Bauer (he’s likely to start the year in Columbus but you can bet he won’t be there for long) and the underappreciated bullpen reinforcement Cleveland got in Bryan Shaw and losing Choo probably won’t hurt too bad.
The Choo trade also means that there is a vacancy in right field. (It’s possible that Michael Brantley will stay in center and Stubbs will move to right, but shifting Brantley to left and letting Stubbs play center seems like a much better allocation of defensive ability.) Swisher is widely regarded as an above-average fielder in right, and though he can also play first base and (presumably) left field, moving him to an easier position would be a waste of his talent. Simply put, Swisher is more valuable in right field than he is anywhere else, so the new opening there should make him worth even more to the Tribe.
Finally, there is the tautological but oft-forgotten notion that a four-year contract (as Swisher is all but certain to get wherever he goes) means he would be around for four years. Even if the this team isn’t ready to contend in 2013—and I don’t think that’s a given—Swisher would still be in Cleveland in 2014. And 2015. And 2016. And if the Indians aren’t in the playoff hunt at any point between now and 2017, they will have much, much bigger problems than having overcommitted to Swisher before they were ready to compete.
I’m not saying the Indians should sign Swisher at all costs—if the Rangers have indeed set their sights on him, a small-market team probably wouldn’t be wise to pursue a bidding war against a hungry Nolan Ryan. But Swisher looked like a great fit for Cleveland two weeks ago, and nothing that’s happened since then has changed that.