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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Fool me once...

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Fool me once...
December 19, 2012
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The Nick Swisher tour…forgive me if I’m not onboard. As I batten down the hatches here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario for the impending winter blast and hurricane-like winds, I can't help but reminisce about the ghosts of Cleveland Indians, and of Cleveland's past in general. Too many player tours have come to the area, only to use the Indians as a blast-off point for a contract elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong. If Nick Swisher signs with the Cleveland Indians, the outfield of Michael Brantley in left, Drew Stubbs in center and Swisher in right would be a major upgrade over the Brantley/Choo/insert-bad-leftfielder that the Indians dealt with last year.

There would be a clear upgrade defensively. Drew Stubbs is a fantastic centerfielder with great speed. He gets to a bunch of baseballs others done, and has a gun for an arm. Brantley was a good centerfielder, but will be better back in left, solidifying an extremely weak position in 2011. His best defensive numbers were when Brantley was a full Last season, Swisher was a better defender than Choo, and one could make a case that he’s been a more consistent defender over the length of his career. That’s likely been hindered by the fact that he’s played left, center, right and first base for substantial time over his career. With the Indians, he’ll be a rightfielder first, a DH/1B second, so that would only help him moving forward.

Offensively, the new-and-improved, Nick Swisher-led outfield would be transcendental compared to what the Indians had last season with their mish-mash in left. Stubbs has 15-20 homer potential, and Swisher hasn’t hit less than 21 homers since 2004. Sure, there will be a few more K’s, but Stubbs is a right-handed hitter, and Swisher is a switch-hitter. Combine the two with Mark Reynolds, and the Indians left-handed-laden lineup is a thing of the past.

Swisher is also an Ohio boy. He’s a Columbus native who played his college ball at Ohio State, and he’s been an Ohio State fan since he was a baby boy. He’s the type of player that Cleveland fans would really get behind, not only as a hometown boy, but also as a blue collar type player that fits perfectly in the Indians clubhouse.

Swisher has historically been a good clubhouse guy, but there have been reports that he can be a bit annoying in before and after games. In a recent poll of 100 major leaguers, Swisher was voted the third “most hated player” in baseball. An unnamed AL vet said that “being around him is just exhausting.” With that said, most folks say Swisher is a positive influence.

Seriously, there might not be a better player for the Indians to sign this offseason, depending on how much money he’s going to cost them.

Just don’t expect me to jump on the Nick Swisher train any time soon.

Forgive me if I haven’t been through a “player tour” once or twice before, including several with the Tribe over the years. Tours are meant to do a couple of things. Primarily, players and agents will bounce from city-to-city to help drum up the price for their next contract. Swisher is in a prime position with regards to signing a deal. With Hamilton off the market, there are several teams looking for a corner outfielder that are now lining up for Swisher’s services.

It’s believed that Swisher will be visiting several more teams, including the Boston Red Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles. It’s believed that the San Francisco Giants and the Seattle Mariners are not on the planned tour.

If you look at the names on the list outside of the Indians, you’ll see all teams that can certainly consider themselves big market teams with much deeper pockets than the Tribe. It’s unknown what the Indians offered Swisher, but their initial range seemed to be in the four-year, $50 million area. With teams with money in the equation, it’s likely the Indians even upped their offer to four-years and $60 million. I’m still not sure that’s going to get a deal done.

I have to believe that Swisher has $80 million ringing in his head as a top-range number, and there’s a big part of me that thinks Swisher is using the Indians, as many others have done, to set the low-end range. Swisher knows that the Indian offered Victorino $44 million. Swisher knows that the Indians would offer Swisher MORE than $44 million (and he’s worth it). Swisher also knew that by taking this tour after the Josh Hamilton deal that he would more than likely get top-notch dollar.

So, here come the Indians, pulling out all the stops. Tribe management pulled all the spots that you would expect from a hometown club. They threw out a video at Progressive Field for Swisher that included Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and basketball coach Thad Matta, both encouraging the Swishers to choose the Indians.

They then ate lunch at the Terrace Club, where the Senator, Jim Tressel was waiting to greet him.

In other words, the Indians gave the ole’ college try.

If only it were that easy.

Cleveland wasn’t able to seal the deal, and Swisher and his Hollywood wife, actress JoAnna Garcia, are off to their next town.

Sure, the Indians could end up signing Swisher. Today, there’s a lot of talk about the Indians even being the front-runner. I’m just not buying it.

You know what they say. Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me. Fool me 100 times…well…shame.

There are many rumors circulating about teams dropping out of the race for Swisher, including the Red Sox and the Giants. Of course, in this crazy time of year, it’s hard to know what’s true, what is planted information, and what is speculation with regards to reporters. The Indians have given Swisher a standing offer, so we shall see what it is, and if he’ll take it. I’d feel a lot better if he’d have walked out with a deal. It’s just near impossible to believe that the Indians will offer more money, or more years. Losing a draft pick is a big deal though.

Like I said…fool me 100 times…

If the Indians don’t sign Swisher, their focus will immediately turn to other likely candidates, such as Cody Ross. Personally, I’m fine with that, as they likely have a better chance to sign Ross than anyone else being mentioned. Here’s the thing. Ross will likely be overvalued at that point. While it’s possible that he could be had for a deal, it’s more probable that a team is grateful that they’ve gotten Ross, who has been fairly productive season last year with the Red Sox.

Ross is searching out a three-year, $25 million deal, and I suppose I’d be buying if the Indians didn’t have any other options, but it does put that Josh Willingham, three-year, $21 million deal into context, doesn’t it? Willingham has been a regular longer, and his numbers are better. Not by much, but he would certainly be the better deal at last year’s cost. Does that mean that the Indians should pass on Ross?

That’s not easy to answer, but if I were the Indians, I’d be continuing to work the phones for a deal that incorporate both Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez. I know that it’s easier said than done, and I also don’t want the Indians to be left in the lurch for right field, but it’s distinctly possible that the Indians could swing a deal that brings in a position player of immense value for Perez and Cabrera.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the Indians with regards to the Angels Kendrys Morales. Would the Indians be able to deal closer Chris Perez to the Angels for Kendrys Morales? Would the Indians even want to? Here’s something to remember about Morales, that not a lot of folks are talking about. He’s not only a Scott Boras client, but he’s also a free agent in 2014. I just don’t see the Indians trading away two years of Perez to the Angels for one year of Morales. I’m not saying the Indians aren’t playing for 2013, but I believe they are putting together a team for MORE than 2013. Morales certainly wouldn’t fit into the plans.

He may be a back-up option, but I certainly don’t think he’s at the forefront with the Tribe.

So what should the Indians do? Not sure there’s an easy answer, but I do know that there is value there for two years of control for both Cabrera and Perez. The Indians won’t deal them unless the right deal becomes available. I don’t necessarily see a fit for both, unless perhaps the Mets would inquire. I’m just not sure they want to take on anything at this point in their franchise history.

With regards to Cabrera, I just can’t get the St. Louis Cardinals out of my head. He seems to fit there, and I really believe that the Indians could inquire about a top pitching prospect, or even one of their top position players. They have Oscar Tavarez, a fantastic hitting outfielder who seems primed to enter the big league fray. They also have a slew of awesome starting pitching prospects, such as Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and John Gast.

Of course, it’s all speculation, and the Indians actually are finding themselves in a position of control. If they keep Cabrera, they get two years of one of the better infielders in baseball. If they trade Cabrera, they should be able to acquire multiple players that could be impactful. In other words, it’s not a place that the Indians are familiar with. It’s the same with Perez at this point. If they keep him, he’s one of the top closers in baseball. If they can’t, he can provide future value.

The wild card for Swisher appears to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, and there are rumors that they may be looking to deal Andre Ethier. If Ethier goes in a deal, then Swisher would become their top priority. Is it possible that Swisher has a Dodgers timeline? If they don’t make a move for Swisher by Christmas, might the Indians be the second choice? The fear there is that he’ll take any job on the West Coast ahead of the Tribe. That’s why the Giants were a big worry, but they appear to have what they need in the outfield, and are losing interest. That can only help the Tribe.

The Indians designated Russ Canzler for assignment. I like Russ Canzler, and think that he’s a quality minor league player. Here’s the thing though. If you are talking about a guy like Canzler potentially getting major league at bats as a regular, your team isn’t very good. I think it’s important for the culture of the Tribe to begin to get rid of the players that are never going to push for a job. This isn’t against a guy like Canzler, who could potentially fill a role in an organization, but it’s time for the Indians to set the bar higher. Of course, it means that the Indians have to continue to bring in better players. Will see if they can continue that trend.

With everything that’s being said about the Indians, I can’t help but close out my piece this week with a small note on what happened in Connecticut this past week. Baseball is a fantastic pastime, and it can be amazingly therapeutic. With that said, I can’t help but think that our world fundamentally changed this past Friday. I know that I speak for every one of our writers and readers in sending prayers and positive thoughts to the people of Newtown, Connecticut.

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Tony
December 21, 2012 - 12:05 AM EST
Yeah, unfortunately, if the fans want the Indians to be involved in the FA game, this is the reality. That what they DO pay to land someone is going to be a serious overpay. It is why free agency is a poor way of adding talent. Good trades, good drafts, scouting, and development are the key. Free agents should only be added to supplement what is already in place. That said, this is one of those times where I am stepping outside of my box and hoping they overpay. I often am against it, but at this point, I think it is a necessity to bring in Swisher just from a PR perspective and more importantly instill a belief that there is tangible proof things are indeed different.
Seth
December 20, 2012 - 11:37 PM EST
Indians fans are like old people who are confused about the cost of things because they haven't bought anything substantial in a while. The only way you think 4/50, much less 4/60, is an overpay for Swisher is, well, if the last time you paid signifiant attention to the free agent market was 10 years ago. Or if you're just looking at Swisher's batting average, I suppose. The market rate for MLB free agents has been around $5 million per WAR for a while now. Swisher's put about about 12 WAR over the past 3 years. So his production over the last 3 years has been worth almost $20 million a year. He'll be 35 at the end of a 4-year contract, so doubtful he'll still be a 4 WAR player then, but if he puts up 12 WAR over the next 4 years, which is a reasonable projection, then 4/60 was a perfect valuation. And 4 years from now, free agent prices will undoubtedly be higher than they are now. The same people who think 4/50 for Swisher is an overpay, think Choo is going to get an $80 million contract next year. If Choo's worth $80 million, as a player who will only be a few months younger than Swisher and who relies more on speed for his value than Swisher does, then 4/60 for Swisher is comparatively a huge bargain.

3/21 for Willingham was always a massive value/underpay. That's why it was crazy that they were scared to go to a 3rd year on him.
Rick
December 20, 2012 - 10:15 PM EST
Tend to agree with Tony as far as over paying Swishilousious. That is clearly the theme this Hot Stove - making the Willingham missed signing seem like a bygone era.

I'm not too upset at missing either Morales or Jackson.

What is a bit disconcerning is how smart the Twinkies GM was to grab too C-List arms early. Clearly the Dodgers/Angels cash mania has sky rocketed the baseline costs.

Does anyone really buy the Sanchez/Jackson paydays? I don't.

I can live with a 50+ million obligation to Swisher for a couple of reasons though. First as Tony has pointed out many times it is the kind of overpay this front office/ownership has to live with to bring fans back to the park.

2nd; unlike some here I do believe that Swisher, despite ugly post season #'s, is superior to Ross in every way. Take out the Cody super post-season WS Giants month and a half and you have what the Red Sox lived with during the short lived Bobby V reign - a place holder with servicable results - nothing worth the kind of love some have been lavishing his way in recent posts.

I think realistically it's a moot point. Any upgrade will probably require a trade because this market is just crazy inflation.

I would much rather see the Indians take it off the throttle for a trade rather than risk carrying 20-30 million on an average schmoo like Ross in some multi-year deal just because the market has gone bonkers with TV cash.

At least with Swisher there is a fall back you can trade him in a year or two and (even if you have to eat cash to do it) there will be a market to get out from under.

I really don't buy that there is a similar option should Ross prove a mistake.

It's also another reason why I believe Stubbs could be a steal, given the going costs of landing a quality OF. I also believe the scary K rate is something Terry Francona will have something to say about.

After all, when Reynolds was starting to set his K records in Phoenix - and it became a contagion with Adam LaRoach at 1st and Chris Young in Center making it a team record effort - the 'Manager' was a rookie former personnel director from triple AAA - who happened to never have played a pro game in his life.

Francona can do more than just fill out a line up card.
Seth
December 20, 2012 - 11:31 AM EST
$15 million/year for someone who has been a consistent 3+ WAR is not overpaying. That's about exactly what you would expect to pay. He likely won't be as productive at the end of his contract, but he's a power and OBP guy, those skills don't usually decline as quickly as someone who relies on speed, like Victorino or Bourn.
Tony
December 20, 2012 - 9:03 AM EST
Swisher will be overpaid.....and the contract will probably hurt in his last year or two of it....but I find it very important to sign him not just what he does on the field, but the image he helps change off it. The fans have no hope they will keep anyone or sign anyone, and this would be a great way to help that a little. Also, and maybe more importantly, it would show agents and other players they have indeed changed and players may take offers from them more seriously.
Nick
December 20, 2012 - 8:39 AM EST
My two thoughts...

1) It'd be very hard to stomach the deal that some have "reported"; i.e. a 4 year deal for over $56/mill....13 to 14 million for Swisher? No thanks. Let's use some of that to bring Nagy back home and make him our pitching coach :)

2) Still have to hope that Perez can get traded to LAA for Trumbo....if Swisher falls through I'd have to imagine that's a more tantalizing option than signing Ross who seems destined for Phili at this point.
Jim
December 20, 2012 - 1:20 AM EST
Whoever signs Ross, is going to have to overpay for him. Not saying that the Indians aren't going to do that with Swisher, but I'd rather overpay on the known commodity in Swisher, than overpay on Ross, who's a bit more of a risk, and who clearly is going to get at least three years, if not a fourth.

Ahhhh, yes, a legitimate shot at Swisher...which clearly means he's going to sign with someone else...;)
Jim
December 20, 2012 - 1:18 AM EST
Jack--

Swisher is an Ohio native...and was born, and grew up in Columbus. He moved to West Virginia at some point, but not until his teenage years...I think. That was only for a short while, because he ended up at Ohio State...

I don't think the team control issue is with Perez, Seth, but if I read Morales contract right, he's a free agent next year. I don't think the Indians want a player for one-year to replace Choo...just a guess. Won't have to worry about it though.
Tony
December 19, 2012 - 11:03 PM EST
Angels money comes from that new TV deal last year. Plus it's LA....2nd largest market in country.

Also, I think the right play is to stay the course on Swisher. His market is much smaller and the Indians have a legit shot of signing. The market and suitors for Ross is much more saturated as the Phillies, Rangers, etc have all had him in for visits and he is expected to sign with one of them. So many more teams are interested in Ross because he won't cost a draft pick and is cheaper and can sign for shorter contract length. Heck, I'm starting to wonder if Swisher waits it out on Ross to sign so then those that miss out on him maybe re-consider Swisher. Crazy. Indians have no chance at Ross it appears based on the heavy interest by so many teams and how far along talks are for him.
Joe
December 19, 2012 - 10:49 PM EST
Morales to Seattle for Vargas. L.A. picks up more salary for a year. Don't know where Moreno made his fortune, but wish he had cut Dolan in for a piece. Still want Jackson and Ross. Let Swisher go.We'll be left at the alter again.
Carl
December 19, 2012 - 9:39 PM EST
I glad to hear the Tribe is still in on Edwin Jackson. If I had choice I would take him. I too get feeling Swisher is using Tribe .to drive up price. I would love both. Pitching is a greater need
Seth
December 19, 2012 - 7:02 PM EST
I'd have given them Ubaldo and Chris Perez for Morales. But then, if I were the Angels, I'd probably have taken Vargas over Ubaldo and Chris Perez. Innings-eater > than sketchy closer.

I would think Swisher an odd player for Texas to pursue. Square peg in a round hole. Could they use him? Sure, like the Reds could use Choo. But would they want to pay that much for a guy who doesn't really play the position where they need someone, and lose a draft pick? Seems like a bad investment. The teams that would make most sense, who are more attractive locations than Cleveland, would be Philly and Boston. I'm surprised those two don't seem more interested. I could see either preferring to invest in Cody Ross, since he'll be a lot cheaper, but there is, unfortunately, only one Cody Ross. Philly especially, if they acquired Swisher, it would fill a big need for a team that's currently a borderline contender. Boston I don't see having much shot this year regardless. Maybe Philly can't actually afford Swisher though.
Tony
December 19, 2012 - 6:52 PM EST
All moot now on Morales. In the end the Indians simply did not have the ammo to get the deal done. What starter could they have traded better than Vargas? I guess Masterson, but if they did that I'd have been livid. I wouldn't trade McAllister or Carrasco either. Indians simply had depth at the wrong position (starting pitching) to be a match with the Angels).
Jack
December 19, 2012 - 6:48 PM EST
Morales was just trade to the Mariners for Vargas.

As far as Swisher is concerned, I think really the only teams that have any true interest in him are the Rangers and Indians. The Dodgers cannot trade Ethier with that ridiculous contract and they're said to be more interested in Bourn anyway.

Other teams do not want to lose their 1st rd draft pick and/or put themselves in danger of going over the salary threshhold. I'd be surprised if another team steps in and signs him.

By the way, Swisher is not an Ohio native he's from West Virginia.
Steve
December 19, 2012 - 6:41 PM EST
Unfortunately, looks like we got beat to the punch for Morales. Mariners acquired him for Jason Vargas. I have to believe the Indians had the assets to acquire him if all it took was Vargas straight up. But again, he was a one-year fix, so he probably was never on the team's radar.
Seth
December 19, 2012 - 5:57 PM EST
The Indians would be nuts not to deal Perez for Morales, and if they would even think twice about it, there is something wrong. I highly doubt the Angels would be interested in that offer though. I don't think the "team control" factor has any value with Perez, you're already paying him $7 million from arbitration because of his role as closer. Mike Adams signed a 2 year $12 million deal with Philly, and has been a much better pitcher than Perez.

If the Indians could get Morales and install him at 1b and shift Reynolds to primary DH, that would be a massive improvement on defense and offense. Moving Perez, installing Pestano as closer, leaves them with a little less bullpen depth, but there's no guarantee that move doesn't actually improve the bullpen. Between Perez, Pestano, Joe Smith, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Albers, that is one too many right-handers. I'd say the worst of that bunch is Albers, but barring a trade Allen's probably the one who opens in AAA. Allen may actually be better than Chris Perez. Again, no good reason the Angels would be interested in that move. But yeah, trade Perez.

Word is the Red Sox don't plan on meeting with Swisher this week, so not sure there is much interest there. I

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