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12.24.2012

Offseason Rundown: Tribe Digs Deep into Pockets for Swisher

Nino Colla | Monday, December 24, 2012 | | | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips
I know it's tempting to start salivating. Without the big moves they made last year, there was a little bit of hope. This year, people might start shouting playoffs or some junk like that.

I was as optimistic as the next guy, but with some guarded optimism as to what had to go right and what had to go wrong, as I was the previous year when the Indians did the exact same thing. Start hot, fizzle, oh well let's try again next year.

Things are a little different now. The Indians are not acting as a team that is ready to try and sell off what they have and build up for a future run. And why should they? They're simply taking a new angle to the situation they have, with a new manager who is being brought in to win now, why would you do anything else?

You already have invested in the trade for Ubaldo Jimenez, why not just throw your eggs in the contention basket at this point, right? The Choo trade is simply common sense. He's a commodity that helps you, but one that could help you in a greater way, not just now, but in the future, because he sure as hell isn't helping you beyond 2013.

That's why the Indians were so staunch on trading Asdrubal Cabrera. Would they have? If they got the right deal, of course, but Cabrera has more value beyond 2013, so holding onto him makes more sense than trading him, unless trading him makes too much sense.

So here we are, the Indians, chased after Nick Swisher. And it appears to me as if they were the team that wanted him the most, from beginning to the very end of him signing this $56 million dollar deal. Let me spit some economics at you.

The Indians invested a good amount of change into the contracts of Choo and Hafner last year. Those contracts are gone and while in some crazy round-about way of trading Choo for Drew Stubbs, they'll still be paying the amount they would have ended up paying if they had held onto Choo.

But they won't be paying Hafner over $10 million dollars, which is what really makes this deal possible. Of course other contracts are going up, but there isn't much more in terms the Indians need to account for when they look at their overall payroll. You can also assume they are making a real effort to throw a little more money out there, because they seemingly have a little more to spend, and well, they're just taking an overall more aggressive approach to improving this team.

It can hurt you, but it can also come out looking good if this team does something. The Indians have never done this before. They've never signed a free agent for this amount of money. They've given out large contracts, see Hafner, Travis, also filed under "Pronk", but that was an extension.

In fact, other than Hafner, they've never really had a mega deal handed out to anyone, in-house or out. This team has signed extensions, but not four year contracts worth more than $50 with a fifth option year. We're talking about a team that refused to give Josh Willingham a third year. It's not so much that the Indians are afraid of spending money, it's more or less that they are afraid of commitment. And can you blame them?  A team like the Yankees can spend money, any team can. But what separates the Indians from the Yankees is that the Yankees can chalk up contracts to sunk costs and deal with long term deals over time.

On a year-to-year basis, the Indians simply cannot do that. If they have a bad year, they're going to hurt in attendance (as we've seen) and that will hurt the wallets and significantly impact what this team can do on a year-to-year basis. That's why this team has only really signed Kerry Wood since the Hafner/Westbrook contracts were handed out.
Photo - Getty Images

I'm not going to go bother back in the annals of history and look at the Indians contracts or free agent signings. This is a different era. Of course Swisher's deal is the biggest free agent contract in club history. Since the prices of free agents has inflated to the current rate, the Indians haven't really made this type of signing. The contracts they've handed out have been smart, economically sound, lower-risk extensions to players that have been groomed in-house and are significantly younger.

Nick Swisher could be 37 by the time his contract with the Cleveland Indians is finished.

The Indians just don't do that, or haven't done that. They minimize their risk and maximize their funds to get as much bang for their buck as possible. Of course that doesn't always work, and hasn't for the Indians aside from 2007, but it is the plan they have to execute.

What makes this different? I couldn't tell you why the Indians have had this sudden change. Why they're now aggressive. I think Hafner's contract has a little to do with it and some of the other little factors I've touched up play their parts. Ken Rosenthal had an interesting perspective, saying that the Indians are, in a way trying to, "thread the needle". They want to improve in the short term, but also add long term pieces.

Ultimately I think this is just the Indians taking a new approach to their baseball team and there are a lot of things at play here. Perhaps the desire to win has reached a level that is making this quite the intriguing offseason and a good time to be a fan of the Indians, because at least now, we have a little excitement and hope to sink our teeth into.

[HERE COMES SWISH]

Yes, that was perhaps the longest winded into I've ever had, but there's a lot of aspects to this deal and I had to get those, non-Swisher sort of things out of the way. And now that I have, there's some particular's to this deal that need to be examined.

I think we need to start with the contract, since we're on the subject of money. Swisher will get $56 million guaranteed of course, with $11 of that initially coming this coming year. He'll then make $15 million each of the next three years, with a possible $14 million up for grabs with a vesting option for the 2017 season. To get that, he'll need to have 550 plate appearances and pass a physical in 2016. Basically, if he earns it, he'll get it. The Indians won't let that thing vest if he is not producing. But that's too far away now to worry about.

The Indians made a downright insane pitch to get Swisher. Let's just be real here. This is all about the money. You can bring up points about him going to Ohio State and all that fun stuff, but would you turn down the contract the Indians offered if it was the best deal? Probably not. I'm not sure how much the other side things came into play, but I can't imagine anyone else gave Swisher the same sort of deal, which is ultimately why he is a Cleveland Indian today. And don't for a second believe Brian Cashman when he says that the Indians got a bargain for Nick Swisher. I'll eat my shoe if he is worth more than $15 million a year. Because friends, $15 million is no bargain.

The pomp and circumstance is nice. The club rolled out a red carpet for him last week, having him and his wife at Progressive Field, putting him on the big screen, heck, having Jim Tressel make an appearance. Why? What does Jim Tressel have to do with anything? What does it matter? The Indians are trying to get Nick Swisher to come to their team and they're doing anything they can. Even if they have to take a page out of Akron's book.

In fact, the whole thing was a bit ridiculous if you ask me. But the Indians did what they had to do, and now that the shamelessness is over, and Swisher is in the fold, we can focus on the more important things.

The first being that the search to replace Shin-Soo Choo is already over, well before it advanced very far. In fact, you chalk Swisher into the lineup and right field for a few years. Left if you end up finding a better right fielder. It was the biggest reason you had to not trading Choo right now and they not only made it not a problem, they seemingly solved a down the road issue and gave themselves some more time to develop some outfielders.


The second is that Swisher is a switch hitter, something the Indians really need. The dramatic left-handed looking lineup has now been turned upside down and there's a good mix of hitters and some room for Terry Francona to work with in terms of filling out his lineup card. Swisher is not someone who is overly better against righties or lefties. Yes he hits the left-handed pitcher better as a right-handed hitter with his career .270 average, but he is still at .250 against the righties and of course, since he's faced more, he has significantly more home runs and RBI and all that fun stuff.

If you take a look at the little diagram above, you can see the Indians infield is pretty much all filled out at this point. I don't see the Tribe going after someone who will solely be a DH, because teams just don't do that these days. With someone like Santana who needs breaks from behind the plate, and with a backup like Lou Marson who should probably get into the lineup a little more against left-handed pitching, that DH spot can be used to play matchups and give regulars a break from the field.

So you essentially have a lineup that is rather set. What will be filled out is the bench and where the Indians go from here in terms of their offseason much absolutely switch to pitching. You can see that rotation and while it looks okay, you can't count on Carrasco and to rely on Jimenez and Masterson as your one-two punch for a second straight year? This team needs a few more options to throw into the mix. What they do is going to be interesting because you have pretty much used up what you would think is in their budget in signing Swisher and Mark Reynolds.

So there's that.

And then you have something that I just can't stop thinking about.

I dislike Nick Swisher.

I'm not saying I don't like the signing, or that I have a problem with him as a baseball player.

I just genuinely do not like Swisher. And hey, I'm sure he's a nice guy. But man, the guy has always irritated me since his days with Oakland. From there to Chicago when he was with the rival Sox and even with the Yankees, I've never liked him.

And I think it has everything to do with the way he plays the game. If it is one type of person, it's tough and gritty, and underdog-type stuff. If it's someone like Nick Swisher, it's annoying, pest-like, completely irritating.

And as I've touched up on before, I grew to like Shelley Duncan to the point where I'm a fan for life, regardless. I'm not sure if Nick Swisher will ever become a favorite, but I can say that I would rather have him playing for my favorite team, than against it. He is most definitely one of those players that you love to hate if you play him, but you love to love if he's playing for you.

I'll welcome him with open arms, and give him a chance to make me erase all the snotty things I've ever said about him, but I just ask this one thing.

Couldn't it have been anyone else?

All kidding aside, I welcome Swisher. But he has a whole heck of a lot to live up to. His career averages would be a great start.

[RANDOM RUNDOWN]

A few other notes in regards to Swisher. He's a high energy guy that plays with a lot of that enthusiasm that is great to watch. Perhaps that's why I've grown to dislike him. But I think that type of attitude is something you can't just force, so in a way, the Indians also signed themselves a little bit of a leader.

By signing Swisher, the Indians have to surrender their second round pick in the draft next year. A few years ago and that might have been a first rounder if the Indians were deeper in the first round. Not a huge loss. The Yankees get a compensation pick in return for Swisher's exit, something I'm sure they are not used to seeing.

Perhaps it was a good thing the Indians got Swisher, as a backup plan if they so chose was Cody Ross, who signed a three year, $26 million dollar deal with Arizona. I kind of like that deal better and obviously it has a little less risk and commitment. Ross is not the player, nor does he have the track record that Swisher has though.

A shoe is going to drop in the closer market with the possible and likely trade of Joel Hanrahan to Boston from Pittsburgh. When the deal is actually official, we can probably look at it further and see how the Indians  can measure what the Pirates get for Hanrahan and compare it to what the Indians could possibly look at in a return for Chris Perez.

But again as I've probably said week after week as of late, I do not think Perez is going anywhere any time soon.

I also don't think Justin Masterson is going anywhere, despite any sort of report that the Indians are "entertaining" offers. Trading Masterson right now makes little sense after the year he had. He gives you more value if he bounces back and has a better year than he does on the trade market. Jordan Bastian had a piece out a week and a half ago about Masterson looking to fix his mechanics for the 2013 season. Masterson isn't making any excuses, but he did say that the October 2011 surgery he underwent on his non-throwing shoulder forced a difference in his offseason.

"For me, last offseason," he said, "I didn't have a chance to do much working out or anything until a couple weeks before Spring Training. By no means am I making excuses. That's no excuse. But for me to understand where we're at and what need to do, I need to know what was different. It's nice to be able to know I'm going to have a solid offseason and have the ability to come back and go back to what I know I can do -- go through the normal routine. I'll do everything I need to do and come back next year, hopefully, having lots of success. That's what I feel like we'll be able to do."

You hate to say certain things are exact reasons, because sometimes that isn't always the case. But if Masterson comes in next season and is back to original form, I think you have to feel real good about him having a normal offseason. Pitchers are funky dudes and if their mechanics, especially someone like Masterson, get off just a touch, then things can go bad. So, here's to normalcy, here's to routines, and he's to hoping Masterson can be good again.

Hey did you forget the Indians traded for Trevor Bauer? In case you did not, here's an interesting piece that I think you need to look at. Take it all for what it is worth (what it is worth is beyond me though), but there's some intriguing points made by Bob Nightengale. I mean, if you read it, the deal included middle relievers and a washed up first base prospect.

While Didi Gregorius is a 'light hitting' shortstop prospect, it brings Nightengale some concern as to why the Diamondbacks would be so quick to trade him.

Bauer, who majored in mechanical engineering at UCLA, is a loner, several Diamondbacks told USA TODAY Sports. He resisted advice from the coaching staff. He tuned out the veterans. He even refused to listen to younger teammates. He was going to do things his way.

Diamondbacks players and officials contacted Wednesday recalled the night Bauer made his major-league debut June 28. It was 97 degrees in Atlanta. Bauer hit in the first batting-practice group. But instead of cooling off and relaxing, he went to the left-field corner and began stretching. He then began throwing long-toss from the left-field pole to right-center field. One hour still remained before the first pitch, and Bauer was drenched in perspiration, throwing pitch after pitch during his warm-ups. They looked at him like he was crazy. Hs debut lasted four innings, throwing 42 of his 74 pitches for strikes.


There's some concern, much like there's been concern with some of the other guys the Indians have acquired in these mega deals for their star players. But here's the thing. We have no way of knowing how this will turn out. Bauer seems as much can't miss as the last guy, but the reasoning for him not to be is as unique as his warm-up routine.

The Indians are absolutely hoping that it does not turn out to be a problem, but the fear has to be there. But of course, only time will tell.

Finally, it would only be right to end this way in my opinion with the holiday season in full-swing. This article was a nice little present for someone who likes baseball and likes a good laugh. 

After the new Oakland shortstop, Hiroyuki Nakajima, recently signed over from Asia, made a comment that he signed with the A's because their general manager, Billy Beane, was "sexy and cool", Big League Stew went ahead and ranked the GMs based off their sex appeal.

I'm not sure if Nakajima thought he was going to meeting Brad Pitt, but it's funny nonetheless.

You'll be glad to know that Chris Antonetti checked in at nine, just behind Neil Huntington (errr?), with BLS saying he was the "sexy baby" of Matthew Fox and Justin Long.

Oh...Dear... I'm not going to sit here and judge the sexiness of baseball general managers. That isn't exactly my expertise.

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