Imagine you’re shopping for a car. You show up at the dealer fully resolved to spend not a dime more than $20,000, so you don’t even look at the cars near the entrance but head straight for the back row where they keep the Corollas. But on the way back you see a brand new fully loaded Lexus with a sticker reading $21,000. You know that the market value for this car is at least double the sticker price, but you promised your wife you would come home with a car for less than $20,000.
What is the right move here? You make sure the Lexus isn’t hot, then you grab it, because you know that if your wife objects too strongly you can sell it next week for $30,000.
This is the situation the Indians find themselves in with Nick Swisher. He may not be a Lexus, but he’s not a Corolla, and he seems to be available. At the start of this offseason, nobody thought signing Swisher was even a remote possibility. When B.J. Upton, whose OPS was a hundred points lower than Swisher’s, signed with Atlanta for five years and $75 million, it seemed likely Swisher would get more than that per year, (though probably a shorter deal because he is older). That is a neighborhood the Indians just don’t shop in.
But it certainly seems that Swisher has some interest in coming to Cleveland. We have the advantage of being his home state, and it seems like some teams are shying away because of his bad postseason. Who knows, but the bottom line is that an offer of four years and $48 million will not get this done. That is barely more than Shane Victorino turned down, and nobody in their right mind thinks that Victorino is as good as Swisher.
I would offer Swisher three years at $14 million per year, and I would go as high as fifteen if that would get it done. This avoids the risk of carrying him beyond age 35. I would not offer a no-trade clause beyond the first year, so that he can be flipped for prospects if things go south. Essentially, this is the money that Travis Hafner has been getting since 2008, so it is manageable, and Swisher should provide more value than Hafner ever did because he can play defense and he stays healthy for the most part. Swisher is also a switch hitter who posted a .380 on-base percentage against left-handers, so he will balance the lineup along with Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs.
This is the kind of deal you need to make if you are serious about contending. If the Indians had a slew of outfielders in the minors waiting to come up and hit in the middle of the order, things would be different, but when you have to get a legitimate cleanup hitter on the open market this is what it costs. If Swisher doesn’t sign we are probably looking at Thomas Neal in right field. How many people are going to line up for tickets because Neal is playing? We saw last year what happens if you start the year with holes in the lineup, and nobody wants to go back there again. Swisher will pay dividends with his performance, and with the credibility he will bring. If nothing else, he is an asset who can be moved for a good package of prospects down the road.