After three weeks of rumors, speculation, and fan longing, the Cleveland Indians finally agreed to sign free agent outfielder Nick Swisher Sunday morning. It took four years and $56 million (plus a $14 million vesting option for 2017) to lure Swisher away from his preferred destinations (New York and Los Angeles), but in the end the Ohio native seems excited to be coming home.
Given the generally favorable reaction Tribe fans have had to the signing, I don’t think it’s too controversial a statement to say that the Swisher deal is good for the team. But beyond the initial excitement that our small-market team just signed arguably the biggest free agent left on the market, there are a few more specific reasons for why Swisher was a great get.
First off, the addition of Swisher gives the Indians the best defensive outfield they’ve had in recent memory. Drew Stubbs is the first true center fielder Cleveland has had since Grady Sizemore‘s heyday. Michael Brantley isn’t great in center, but his glove plays as well above average in left. And Swisher is at worst a solid option in right field and a clear upgrade over Shin-Soo Choo. For a pitch-to-contact staff whose groundball-inducing tendencies have gradually declined, outfield defense is more important than it would be to most other teams, and Tribe pitchers now have a supporting cast that’s tailored to them.
Second, Swisher is a switch-hitter. (Or should I say “Swish”-hitter? Nah, that’s not as funny as I wanted it to be.) That means he’ll join Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana to make the heart of the order completely adaptable to the opposing pitcher. After watching the Indians’ lineup become completely debilitated last year every time a lefty pitcher took the mound, this kind of flexibility will be very nice to have.
Most importantly, the Indians can expect a solid return for their investment. Swisher is one of the most consistent players in baseball—FanGraphs has his wins above replacement holding steady between 3.8 and 4.1 three years in a row—and while there’s no guarantee that he’ll keep that up through his mid-30′s, he’s a much safer bet than someone like Josh Hamilton or Justin Upton. If a win is worth about $5 million in the current player market (and given some of the contracts we’ve seen, it could very well be higher than that), Swisher will more than earn his keep if he average a modest 3.0 WAR per season. Or, using Mark Shapiro’s estimate that a win costs $9 million, Swisher needs only to be a league-average player to give the Tribe over $15 million in surplus value.
Just the fact that people are excited about baseball in this city makes this signing something special. But while adding a big name might get fans through the gates at Progressive Field, Swisher was also the right big name for this team. Great job by the Indians in doing what it took to lure him away from the bigger markets.