One of the premier players of the 2012 free agent class is heading to the Midwest. Just before Christmas, outfielder Nick Swisher agreed to a deal to join the Cleveland Indians. The 32-year-old cashed in big with a four-year deal worth $56-million with a $14-million vesting option for a fifth year that would bring the total value of the contract to $70-million.
Swisher’s contract is the third-largest given to an offensive player this offseason, behind only Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton. It seems that his strategy of waiting until Hamilton signed his deal paid off. There were reportedly about a half-dozen teams interested in his services as one of the two best remaining outfielders and, as Cleveland isn’t one of the more desirable of free agent locations, the Indians had to increase their own offer to assure he’d commit.
The move will help the Indians replace some of the offensive firepower lost with the trade of Shin-Soo Choo earlier this month. Swisher will also replace him in right field. In Swisher’s four seasons with the Yankees, he averaged a .268/.367/.483 line. During that same timeframe in Cleveland, Shoo averaged .289/.382/.458. So what setback there may be in terms of average, Swisher makes up for with more power and that is something the Indians badly need.
Last year, Cleveland finished ahead of only the Seattle Mariners in the American League in slugging percentage and was third-from-the-bottom in homeruns. Swisher will help them in both areas. Catcher Carlos Santana led the team in homers last year with just 18. Swisher has averaged 26 homeruns during the seven full seasons of his career. His .467 career slugging percentage is 86 points higher than the 2012 Indians’ team total and his career OPS is also 123 points higher than Cleveland’s team last year.
Though he spent the last four years in batter-friendly Yankee Stadium, Swisher’s success can hardly be considered a product of his environment. In his four years in New York, he hit .269 with 46 homeruns at home and .257 with 59 homeruns on the road. So while his average slipped a bit outside of The Bronx, he actually hit 13 more homeruns on the road, albeit in 112 more at bats. Even prior to joining the Yankees, Swisher showed a good amount of consistency that may very well continue in Cleveland.
He now becomes the centerpiece of a roster trying to get back to its winning ways after missing the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. Things did look promising in 2011 when the Indians were within striking distance of the AL Central lead well into August and were aggressive at the trade deadline. They fell off a cliff soon thereafter, however, and that poor play continued through the 2012 season that resulted in the firing of manager Manny Acta.
Swisher will be sure to give the club a new clubhouse presence with a boost of energy and personality. He is widely regarded as one of the most popular players in all of baseball both among teammates and fans and loves to have fun. New manager Terry Francona also led the 2004 championship Boston Red Sox team that became known as “The Idiots”. Led by Swisher, Indians fans may get a taste of that “idiot” culture that produced a World Series title with hopes that another can be delivered to Northern Ohio.