The Indians continue to wander about the baseball landscape aimlessly, this time signing outfielder Nick Swisher to a four-year contract worth $56 million. Swisher spent the last four seasons with the Yankees after beginning his career in Oakland and making a brief cameo appearance for the White Sox. Having recently turned 32, Swisher will be 35 years old by the time his new deal with Cleveland wraps up.
Swisher had another fine season in 2012, hitting .272/.364/.473 with 24 home runs and another approving nod from UZR for his work in right field. The good-natured outfielder was worth 3.9 WAR for his efforts according to FanGraphs; in fact, Swisher has topped the 3.2 WAR mark in every season from 2009 on and every season but one since 2006. He’s a valuable asset and a guy who knows how to take a walk, drive a ball in the zone, and help out defensively from a corner position. For the first couple of seasons of his new contract, it’s hard to imagine Swisher won’t deliver for the hapless Indians. Why are we so down on this deal then?
Like many contracts in the modern game, the issue with this one is length. Swisher shouldn’t have any problem earning the $26 million he’ll make over 2013 and 2014, but his future beyond that point is much murkier. He isn’t a speedy, athletic type who will age well (particularly on defense), and there may come a time when he’s far too reliant on only his batting eye. With the way the new contract is structured, the Indians are slated to pay out $30 million over the final two years of the deal. Perhaps more importantly, the Indians aren’t going to be a contender in 2013 and it would take a massive stroke of luck for them to get there in 2014 or 2015. Swisher’s a very good player still, but he’s not going to be the guy that gets the Indians over the hump or can even really help them overtake any of the multiple teams with better rosters in a weak division. This contract would have been a better one for another team.