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Breaking down the Swisher deal and the Indians next move

Breaking down the Swisher deal and the Indians next move
December 24, 2012
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Wow, what a crazy month it has been for the Indians. It feels like the winter meetings were two months ago when in fact they were just getting underway three weeks ago.

Anyway, as we all get set to open our presents under the Christmas tree and spend time with family, the Indians unwrapped their big gift early signing free agent outfielder Nick Swisher yesterday to a big deal. Here are some thoughts on the signing:

- The Indians and Swisher agreed to a four year $56 million deal yesterday, and the deal also includes a vesting option for 2017 for another $14 million which could push the total deal to five years $70 million. Such a contract is something that the Indians and their fans are not accustomed to in free agency as they have often in the past limited themselves to minor league signings and free agent deals for one to three years max with no more than $10 million a season. There have been better players the Indians have signed over the years in free agency, but his contract he signed destroys the largest free agent contract they have ever given which was Robbie Alomar’s four year $32 million deal he signed in December of 1998.

- The deal break down of Swisher's contract is interesting as he will make $11 million in 2013, $15 million in 2014, $15 million in 2015, and $15 million in 2016. If he accrues at least 550 plate appearances in 2016 and passes an end of season physical, his vesting option for $14 million in 2017 would automatically be picked up. This is interesting because the Indians structured the deal where they save a little money this season, which could mean they use the savings to add yet more pieces.

- I’m not going to sit here and break down all the numbers and all the advanced metrics, but the Indians did a heck of a job in replacing Shin-Soo Choo. Choo and Swisher are very good players, and while Choo is a few years younger, Swisher has been a better player for a longer time and been much more consistent. What I love about the deal is the Indians were able to substitute one year of Choo with four to five years of Swisher, a trade off which could not fit them any better after they traded Choo. Swisher is as good or better of a defender than Choo, while Choo is maybe a little bit better of an offensive player. Choo has a little more speed, while Swisher has more power. They both have their small differences, but in the end, the Indians found as good of a replacement in right field as you could possibly expect.

- Another thing to consider is had the Indians not signed Swisher they very well could have ended up with a minor league signing or had to go with an internal option for right field. I mean no disrespect to Ezequiel Carrera, Tim Fedroff, and Thomas Neal, but Nick Swisher they are not. Not even close. It would be a considerable step down offensively if the Indians had to go that route and have any of those players in a more primary role rather than a fourth outfield role this offseason which I believe they all could serve well. Had they missed on Swisher they probably had other alternatives in mind like Alfonso Soriano, Jason Kubel, and others in a trade, but they were not a sure thing. Signing Swisher locks up a position of need for the next four to five years, and you just now hope he stays healthy and continues to age well. That’s the risk you take with any player - free agent or not - just free agents cost exorbitantly more money.

- Some people have asked why the Indians simply did not just resign Choo with the money they signed Swisher with. Well, there are lots of reasons for that. First and foremost, Choo is a Scott Boras client, and his clients almost never agree to extensions in their free agent year as he pushes them to test the free agent market. No matter what, Choo is going to hit the free agent market next year, and if he has another good season this coming year he could be looking at a substantial free agent windfall this time next year. With all the new national TV money kicking in for the 2014 season, contracts are going to be even more insane and teams will have even more money to spend, which means he could be heading toward a deal of five year $85 million or more next offseason, possibly even a six year deal around $100 million. Those are not just figures I am throwing out there, those are figures I’ve heard passed around in the industry.

- The other big reason why the Indians did not simply just keep Choo is because he was a valuable trade chip they were able to play to fill a need. The Indians knew all along that they wanted to sign a good outfielder in free agency, which meant they could trade Choo to help their need for starting pitching. By trading Choo and signing Swisher, the Indians effectively traded one year of Choo, Tony Sipp, Jason Donald, and Lars Anderson in exchange for Swisher, Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Bryan Shaw, and Mitch Albers. In a nutshell, they basically got Bauer, Stubbs, Shaw and Albers for nothing. That’s a sign of a front office on top of their game and back to making astute deals.

- Swisher will help bring some energy to the team and some stability to the middle of the Indians lineup. He is not your prototypical third or four-hole hitter, but he is a solid option for either role because of the quality of his at bats and his solid power and run producing numbers in the past.  The Indians need his consistency and versatility where he can hit from both sides of the plate and also play some first base. With Swisher in tow the Indians now may feature a middle of the order that has three consecutive switch-hitters in Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Swisher. Add in the right-handed bats of the recently signed Mark Reynolds and trade pickup Drew Stubbs, and suddenly the frustrating left-handed heavy lineup from last season is very balanced.

- Swisher also helps bring some hope back to the fan base. Look, if you were to go back to the site archives just four months ago in August and read some of the stuff written by the writers here and the comments by the fans in the articles, it was not pretty. It was maybe the lowest I have seen Indians fans in my lifetime as people had lost complete faith in the organization and all hope was lost. Four months later the hope has been restored and slowly but surely the front office and ownership have earned back some trust. The Indians needed an offseason like this to jumpstart the fan base and get them excited in Indians baseball again.

- It should be noted that just because the Indians finally inked Swisher to a deal that their offseason shopping is not done. They are still pursuing free agents to fill a need in their starting rotation, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that they could still sign or trade for another bat – though that appears unlikely at this time.  Right now the primary focus is on adding a starter to insert into the middle of the rotation, and if one can’t be added then they may end up signing two back of the rotation types. They really were aggressive in their efforts to sign Edwin Jackson as they offered a four year deal but he signed for the same years with the Cubs and less overall money. There is talk that they have interest in Kyle Lohse, though more realistic options may be Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Jair Jurrjens, and Brett Myers.

- Speaking of Lohse, it would be an absolute coup if the Indians signed him. It is a long shot, but one thing to note is that the Indians do catch a break in that they would not have to pay as much as other teams in terms of draft pick compensation. Lohse received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals this offseason, so if he signs elsewhere the Cardinals will get a first round supplemental compensation pick and the signing team will forfeit their first round pick. But in the Indians case, since their first round pick is protected because they are in the first ten picks of the draft, and they just lost their second round pick with the signing of Swisher, they would only lose their third round pick to sign Lohse. That is a distinct advantage that works in their favor and could make them more aggressive than other teams that are hesitant to sign him because they would lose their first round pick. Of course, it all comes down to money, and after the Swisher signing I wonder if the Indians have the available money to sign someone like Lohse, although I heard they were prepared to sign both Swisher and Jackson….so who knows.

- I am merely speculating here, but if the Indians really want to go for it they could go after Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano in a trade. They have been linked to him in the past, and if the Cubs pay a huge chunk of the two years and $36 million he has left on his contract, the Indians may still have interest. Yes, the budget is getting tight and the focus should be on pitching, but in the right deal and for the right return of money, they should consider Soriano. It would be a long shot, but he could play some outfield and be the designated hitter and would add even more thunder and versatility to the lineup.

- The Indians still have a long way to go, but they have made some big strides this offseason with establishing a new organizational philosophy. The offseason to date is a clear sign of their new approach where they are not being so risk averse with their deals and are going out and being aggressive to get the guys they want no matter what it costs. Obviously there are limitations to what kind of free agents they can realistically pursue, but what they have shown is going forward they should be able to go after almost any B-grade free agent and have a legitimate chance to sign him.

- Their new philosophy is partly the front office and ownership making some fundamental changes with their decision-making process, but a lot of it has to do with the presence of new manager Terry Francona. The Indians really caught a break this offseason with the availability of Francona and his strong interest in wanting to come to Cleveland. In turn, they not only added a strong field manager, but they added a leader this organization so desperately needed. Along with the leadership he brings he also has been given a ton of say on a lot of the decisions this offseason and has helped instill some new philosophies within the organization which are a clear change from previous practices. One big change has been throwing out the Indians risk averse approach from years past and being much more aggressive in getting the guys they like and want without so much fear of the risk involved. They will always weigh the risk of any trade or free agent signing, but they are no longer so reluctant to make those kinds of deals in fear of the roster being weighed down by a bad decision. The approach may or may not work out, but even with the risk averse approach of the past half-decade or so the Indians ended up with some bad deals anyway, so a change was needed.

- FInally, one last comment, but Swisher is gonna be some kind of fun to follow. If his personality is anything like he shows in all of his pictures, we are in for a treat. If you don't know what I mean by his pictures, go Google some pictures of him or just look at the loads of articles we have posted on him to the site over the past three weeks. I don't think he ever makes a straight face. Jim Carrey eat your heart out.

We are only about seven weeks away from the start of spring training, so time is running out on the offseason. As the offseason clock winds down the Indians should continue to explore free agent and trade options, and it is quite possibly another big free agent signing or trade could go down. Stay tuned to the IBI for any developments as they happen!

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Norm
December 25, 2012 - 12:54 PM EST
Nice article Tony. While I would prefer Marcum to Lohse, I am probably outvoted by a wide margin in that regard. But I do believe the money needs to be expended on a SP. It appears very risky to plan on either Bauer or Carrasco to put in a full ML season, much less both. The Indians need an upgrade in the rotation from the beginning of the season, especially with the shaky TOR.

I certainly agree that Soriano would be nice but let me suggest a far riskier pickup who is more versatile defensively and a bit younger. Although Vernon Wells is a player in decline, he probably would not embarrass the team in the OF and still has a bit of pop. Not exactly Mary Poppins in the clubhouse from what I understand but as a 4th OF/PT DH, he could be more serviceable than Carrera and should be very low cost.

I would like to say that I could think of a reasonable way to fill the late inning LHRP but no such luck. At this point, I would think our excess RHRP would go toward SP prospects less than 2 years away.

Merrry Christmas to one and all!
Tony
December 25, 2012 - 12:30 AM EST
Tommy, I will simply disagree. I think the Indians definitely made good on their "opportunity cost" with Choo. Instead of keeping him and letting him walk as a free agent after the season, they were proactive and traded him for much needed assets. So, yeah, they could have had BOTH of Choo and Swisher in the same lineup this year....but just for one year and then when Choo leaves not have others like Bauer, Stubbs, Shaw, and Albers. That is an opportunity cost in every sense of the term.

Obviously I was simply generalizing since if Swisher and Choo cancel out, then the Indians have the other players to show for it. Yes, again, they could have kept Choo and instead signed someone else (Swisher, starting pitcher - which likely still comes anyway).....but again it all comes back to Choo already having one foot out the door and making good to get great value in return for him now.

As for the comment on not signing starting pitching, unfortunately, if the Indians are to ever sign a decent free agent pitcher, these are the prices they are going to have to pay. I know that a lot of us are used to shopping at Walmart for players over the years, so going to higher end stores where things cost more money can be a bit unsettling lol.

Also, I am pretty sure Bourn is out of the mix. Though, there are rumors that teams may use the Indians in a sign-and-trade so clubs can circumvent the compensation rules. Clubs would lose their 1st round pick to sign Bourn, Lohse, Soriano and LaRoche, but those players would only cost the Indians their 3rd round pick. Clubs may trade the Indians a player worthy of their 3rd round pick (or more) in a sign and trade with the Indians where the Indians then trade the signed player to the other team. Confusing, I know.
Bric
December 24, 2012 - 5:03 PM EST
Brilliant economic move by Tribe.
If adding Swisher, Reynolds, Bauer & ? revives interest in the team, the Indians could easily attract another 10,000 fans per game or more.
10,000 fans times 80 games is 800,000 in attendance.
Multiply that times admission, drinks, souvenirs etc. and your sum is more than the cost of all three players plus a 4th.
But will 10,000 more fans attend each game?
It's a gamble, but based on previous interest in good teams, it may pay off, and could pay off with far more than 10,000 per game if the team contends.
Can they contend?
Who knows whether pitchers will have good years or off years?
Nobody in baseball history has ever been able to predict that with certainty (See Cliff Lee, Fausto, Cody Allen, etc.).
Nobody can predict injuries with certainty (Herb Score, Garland, Adam Miller, Knapp, etc.)
I hope they contend, and I know it is possible.
Seth
December 24, 2012 - 3:56 PM EST
I don't think Tony's point was they literally got Bauer for nothing. But that they certainly got Bauer without downgrading the outfield from where it stood at the end of the year, since Swisher = Choo. And everyone important on the current roster is under team control in 2014 as well.

Can't argue with any move Antonetti made this off season. Too bad it took him trading for Ubaldo and missing out on Willingham to wise up. A Swisher, Willingham, Brantley OF with Stubbs as a backup would look pretty nice right now. I think they would be wise to acquire Soriano, as long as the prospect price is not too high. Moving Swisher to 1b, Reynolds to primary DH, and adding Soriano to the lineup do a lot for the defense and offense. Stubbs ideally should be used only against lefties and as a defensive replacement.
Tommy
December 24, 2012 - 3:10 PM EST
Jake,

I loved the Choo trade, but Swisher comes with material liabilities (future salaries and risk).

You can say the Indians are spending the same as they did last year and have a better roster, but Hafner, Sizemore and Hernandez/Carmona were all coming off the books anyhow. Those were bad contracts that the Indians shouldn't all of a sudden now get credit for.

If the Indians owed 18mm to Hafner, Sizemore and Carmona for next year, and Chris Antonetti somehow legally voided those contracts or made 18mm appear out of thin air, then I'd give him credit, but those are bad contracts that were coming off the books anyway.

The Indians roster looks to be more productive at a similar price compared to last year -- I won't argue against that. However, (1) the Swisher signing obligated the Indians to pay Swisher at least 56 million over the next four years (could be a bad contract in 2-3 years), and (2) the Indians had to trade real talent in Shin Soo Choo to get Bauer and company. Choo could have been kept on this team, or traded for other players of value. The Indians did not get Bauer for nothing. There's no economic basis to that argument. I do think the Indians got Bauer on the cheap, but they certainly had to forego value to acquire him.
Jake
December 24, 2012 - 2:04 PM EST
Tommy,
You can not deny that this seasons roster is already better than last seasons roster. Comparing choo to just swisher is narrow minded. The offseason has to be looked at as a whole. The Indians are going to spend the same money this year as last season but have major upgrades across the board and also a few more prospects at the higher levels than they had last season. So are you saying you would rather have kept full and takin the chance he would resign. Which has been said all along he has no desire to stay in Cleveland. So to keep him the Indians would have had to give him werth money. Ill take albers swisher stubbs bauer and Shaw instead of just choo.
Homer
December 24, 2012 - 2:00 PM EST
IF the Tribe was serious about signing both Swisher and Jackson would they be serious about signing Swisher and Bourn?
They could then try to flip Brantley or Stubbs a young SP or two like the Span and / or Revere deals.
Just a thought...
Joey
December 24, 2012 - 1:51 PM EST
IF this team becomes a contender next season, we better not see anymore of those What If? commercials or Remember When? IF the Indians want to contend in 2013, 14 and so on then they better promote the players they have in the present and get the younger current fan base excited with what we have now. That advertising campaign last season was a joke and was made fun of a lot.
Joe Werner
December 24, 2012 - 1:24 PM EST
Rich,
I respectfully disagree with you. At 29, Edwin Jackson’s relatively young, in the middle of his prime, coming off of the best season of his career in terms of peripherals (7.97 K/9 and 2.75 BB/9), and has shown a tremendous ability to generate groundballs.

Let me put it this way, from 2009 to 2012, Jackson totaled over 14.0 fWAR, which ranks 23rd in baseball, ahead of players like Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, and Tim Hudson. And Jackson just barely trails guys like Matt Cain and James Shields, both of whom made 10 more starts apiece.

In fact, I did a quick back-of-the-envelope estimate, and Jackson should be worth just about $80 million over the next four years.

The Cubs, a very forward-thinking organization, got a very good pitcher for a very, very reasonable cost, which allows them to assume a certain amount of risk involved with pitcher injuries.
And what the Cubbies have done is put together a very promising rotation that should still be quite good when the farm system starts burping up a lot of the blue-chip hitters.
Rich
December 24, 2012 - 1:07 PM EST
Hopefully the Tribe's next move will not be signing a starting pitcher. The money they're getting is insane.

Look at Edwin Jackson, who the Tribe pursued. He got a 4-year, $52 million deal. This guy went 10-11 last year with a 4.03 ERA in the National League. If he pitched in the AL with a DH to deal with his ERA would probably be in the 4.40 range.

Over the last five years Jackson is 59-52 with a 4.06 ERA. He's been with seven teams in the last 10 years. He's the very definition of mediocrity - a guy who wins 12 games a year with a 4.06 ERA.

And he got $13 million a year for four years? Wow.

The good starters are getting $20-$25 million a year.

The Tribe should stick with Masterson, Carrasco, McAlister, Kluber, and Bauer. That and draft starting pitching, beginning with the #5 overall pick this year. And hope that a couple of guys in the system like Brown and Salazar emerge.
Tommy
December 24, 2012 - 1:05 PM EST
Dennis, you and Tony don't get it. Dust off your economics books and look up "opportunity cost".
Dennis
December 24, 2012 - 1:00 PM EST
Tommy... really?. math isn't your forte' or so that seems to be the case..

The Indians sent Choo ($ 4.9 MM), Jason Donald ( $ 0.5MM), Tony Sipp ($ 1.2 MM), & Lars Anderson ($0.5 MM) and Esmil Rogers ($ 2.2 MM) away. Amount departing = $ 9.3 MM

Also departing is Hafner ($ 10.25 MM, ), Sizemore ($ 5 MM), and Hernandez ($ 2.5 MM) = $ 17.85 MM

So $ 28.15 MM departing

The Indians then signed Nick Swisher ( $ 11 MM), Trevor Bauer ($ 1.2 MM), Drew Stubbs ($ 2.2 MM), Matt Albers ($ 0.5 MM) and and Bryan Shaw ($ 0.5 MM). Additionally, Mark Reynolds adds $ 6 MM. Mike Aviles ($ 1.2 MM) & Yan Gomes ($ 0.5 MM) ... Plus $ 3.5 MM of Choo's contract

Total Added = $ 26.60 MM So, the difference is $ 1.5 MM or close to nothing in baseball parlance. The roster has been reshaped to a potentially more productive degree. We'll see if the paper version and the actual version meet or exceed expectations going forward....
Joe Werner (ProspectDigest.com)
December 24, 2012 - 12:43 PM EST
I never understood the Kyle Lohse appeal. Yes, he’s coming off of two solid seasons, averaging just over 3.0 wins above replacement (FanGraphs’ version) with a spiffy 3.11 ERA. And, yes, I guess that makes him an above-average starting pitcher by definition. But the underlying numbers tell a drastically different story.

Outside of his age, 34, he’s been incredibly lucky the last two seasons. His batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, have been .262 and .269, respectively, just about 30 points under the league average. And while certain pitchers carry that skill – allowing lower BABIPs, I mean – Lohse really can’t be qualified as that quite yet.

Between 2001 and 2010, Lohse’s BABIP was .305, just a touch over the league average. And now he morphs into a guy that’s nearly unhittable in terms of BABIP? It doesn’t make sense, particularly when he’s maintained approximately the same GB%.

Plus, his Skill Independent ERA, or SIERA, is significantly higher than his actual ERA, at 4.26 and 4.06.

Add it all up and you’re talking about a NL pitcher, who is most likely than not ill-suited for the AL. And over the next two years, he probably totals about 5.0 wins above replacement, which is equivalent to about $25 million. But he’s got a checkered injury history. I wouldn’t go more than what Brandon McCarthy got from Arizona. And that’s only if I’m an NL team.
Carl
December 24, 2012 - 12:31 PM EST
Excellent article. Wow, I actually believe we have shot at Lohse and Soriano. The signing of Swisher and other moves changes your mindset as a fan. Those would be great moves and a go for it now message. Any talk of trading Cabrera would seem to be moot now , unless we are blown away with a deal. The signing of Francona as our manager was first sign Tribe was not going into total rebuild. How about trading Chris Perez to LA Dodgers for Chris Capuno or Aaron Harung and prospect. I like Perez, but I think we can fill his role, especially with additions of Albers and Shaw. Merry Christmas!
Tommy Lee
December 24, 2012 - 12:22 PM EST
"In a nutshell, they basically got Bauer, Stubbs, Shaw and Albers for nothing. That’s a sign of a front office on top of their game and back to making astute deals."

That is wrong. The Indians could have both Choo and Swisher in their line-up next year. They saved no money by trading Choo and they paid Swisher handsomely. You have to figure in cost. Why? It's b/c if not spent on Swisher, that money could have been spent on some other asset. To say they got Bauer and all for nothing is faulty logic.
Iron Mike
December 24, 2012 - 12:18 PM EST
A terrific, impact player, keep finding guys like this and good things will happen. This guy scores runs, 95 or more 3 of the last six years, he walks and solid professional. He could have started on our good teams in the 90's. Now we need our Kenny Lofton, two more starting pitchers and we can compete. Like Stubbs too, if he can hit .250+, ditto Reynolds.

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