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Swisher SWEET: The Indians finally seal the deal

Swisher SWEET: The Indians finally seal the deal
December 24, 2012
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The Cleveland Indians used organizational aggression in making their biggest signing in four years when they agreed to a four-year, $56 million dollar deal with right fielder/first baseman Nick Swisher. The contract also has a vesting option for a fifth year that could up the contract to $70 million.

There were reports that the vesting option was extremely easy to achieve, but it appears as though it’s a lot more difficult than people thought. Sources are now saying that Swisher will need 550 at bats in 2016, and pass his physical to have that option kick in. In other words, the 36-year-old Swisher is going to have to play a lot to earn that $14 million dollars he’s going to be paid.

In the wake of this deal, it’s fairly amazing to look back and see what the Indians have done this offseason, especially when you take into account what they didn’t do last offseason. What’s most amazing about all of the Indians moves is just how fluid the process has been, and how things could have been vastly different.

Remember, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher weren’t their initials targets, and that’s based on the reports of their first deals offered to potential free agents. Initially, the Indians offered Shane Victorino a four-year, $44 million dollar deal. How would that signing have changed the forward momentum, and the players that the Indians had acquired?

The Indians also offered up a two-year, $18 million deal to Kevin Youkilis, which he either declined, or the Indians pushed on without him.

In both cases, the Indians weren’t caught with their pants down. The Tribe immediately moved on to other players and were malleable with the shape that the team would take. Clearly, the Indians had players targeted to approach with deals, and while they are connected via the positions they played, the style of play is very different. Think about Victorino and Swisher. Sure, there are similarities in their make-up, but not the manner in which they play the game of baseball.

They are just talented.

They also were meant to do different things when they were being courted by the Tribe. When the Indians were chasing after Victorino, Shin-Soo Choo was still a member of the team. While the Indians were presumed to be willing to trade him at that point, there didn’t seem to be any discussions revolving around the right fielder.

The Indians were talking to the Diamondbacks at the time, but those talks were centered around Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians were also willing to trade…and still are.

The Indians were being proactive. The Tribe went after Victorino, and nearly had him. The Indians sought a deal with the Diamondbacks for Trevor Bauer, and never backed off…even when the D’Backs refused to take Cabrera. The Indians didn’t wait for Kevin Youkilis, and pounced on a player who they felt could address the same need. The Indians didn’t back off signing Mark Reynolds, knowing that the plan was to acquire more talent.

But still, there’s Nick Swisher, and that was a game changer. Swisher wasn’t the best outfielder available, but not only is he better than their initial target (Victorino), you could make a case that he was the second best (in the mix with Bourn and B.J. Upton) without hesitation. The minute that Swisher hesitated, the Indians were jumped into the mix with Michael Bourn as well.

I was always interested in the thought that the Indians would deal for Bourn, since he didn’t seem to be a fit with the Indians after they went out and got Stubbs. While Bourn is clearly better than Stubbs and Brantley, it would have given them three outfielders with similar strengths, as all would have the ability to play center and weren’t necessarily power hitters. Still, the Indians were pressing forward, and the best part about it is that they had proven in the Youkilis move that they weren’t going to hesitate to move on from Swisher.

Hello new culture.

The Indians were (are) moving on several fronts, and while they ultimately landed Swisher, it’s fairly clear now that they would have landed somebody…whether it was Victorino, Swisher or Bourn, who I am convinced the Indians really were in play for. Funny when you think about it, because while I felt Bourn was a guy that Indians SHOULD go after, like Swisher, I just never believed he would be on the radar because of the money involved. I was clearly wrong.

I haven’t even mentioned Cody Ross, who the Indians were likely courting as well. It’s clear now that he really was a secondary player on their radar, as it appears that their “fallback” for Swisher was actually Bourn.

As we sit now, the Indians have traded for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, signed free agent Mark Reynolds, traded a package centering around Shin-Soo Choo for Drew Stubbs, Trevor Bauer (two major league ready starters), Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw, and have signed Nick Swisher.

Of course, in the middle of all that, the Indians have signed several players to minor league deals, and even used the Rule V draft to pick up some first base help.

They are moving on all facets, and getting Nick Swisher is the crowning achievement of that strategy.

You also have to look at the progress of the Swisher deal to see the Indians thinking. It was initially believed that the Indians were willing to offer Swisher a four-year, $50 million dollar deal, or in that neighborhood. Ultimately, it appeared as though the Indians sent Swisher away with a four-year, $52 million dollar deal. When Swisher didn’t bite, they clearly upped their offer. They got him at $15 million a year, and years didn’t scare them off.

So the Indians clearly changed their views on two fronts. They acquired a player for a bunch of money, and they weren’t afraid to discuss five-years, which the Indians have never been willing to do before.

Think about it: Nick Swisher signed the largest contract in terms of overall money in Cleveland Indians history. This coming off a year in which the Indians essentially did nothing with regards to free agents or trades.

I have to be honest, I’m still shocked they got Swisher. Even if you believe that the planets aligned for the Indians to get a player of his caliber, and that may have happened. The Indians were clearly the one team that was pursuing him from the start. The Indians brought him into town, and made their push. The Indians got him.

Would the Indians even have been in the position to land Swisher in past years?

The easy and correct answer would be no…

…and there’s your new organizational strategy. There’s the difference maker in a market in which you can make every excuse under the sun with regards to signing players. The Indians were in position from the start.

I can argue about whether or not Swisher actually improves the team (he does), or whether or not he will be effective for the duration of the deal (if healthy, he will), that’s not even really important to me at this point. What’s important is that the Indians are creating a bit of a marketing strategy, not only for their own fans, but for free agents and trade targets. Perhaps second place won’t be the end game anymore, and while that won’t be fixed in one offseason or with one signing…you do have to take steps and remain consistent for people to buy in the philosophy. Let’s see if they stay the course.

It’s particularly clear that Terry Francona is the centrifuge to all this, but he’s not the only factor. Of course the front office has to be commended, but again, you can’t stop there.

You have to point to the ownership group. The Dolans have clearly given the Indians the go ahead to up the ante a bit. While they’re a long way from patching up the divide with their fan base, they are clearly going in the right direction.

Now the Indians just have to win to justify the spending, and there’s no guarantee that that’s going to happen.

But…the Indians are far from finished. In a world in which Nick Swisher is available to the Indians, you can bet that they are talking to starting pitchers as we speak.

Kyle Lohse anyone?

One final point on the Nick Swisher signing is the now new-look offense. The Indians have re-shaped their offense with regards to talent, style and with regards to which side of the plate they hit from. There’s been a lot of speculation on what that line-up would look like, and for the most part, Michael Brantley seems to be the guy most are pointing to as the lead-off hitter.

I see it differently.

  1. 1.      2B Jason Kipnis (Bats: L)
  2. 2.      SS Asdrubal Cabrera (Bats: S)
  3. 3.      RF Nick Swisher (Bats: S)
  4. 4.      C Carlos Santana (Bats: S)
  5. 5.      1B Mark Reynolds (Bats: R)
  6. 6.      LF Michael Brantley (Bats: L)
  7. 7.      3B Lonnie Chisenhall (Bats: L)
  8. 8.      DH Chris McGuiness (Bats: L)
  9. 9.      LF Drew Stubbs (Bats: R)

I’ve always liked Kipnis in a leadoff role, and it’s one he’s familiar with, as he spent a lot of time there in the minors. I could also see a scenario in which Brantley bats leadoff, while Kipnis is in that six-hole. There’s definitely some play there though, as you could really have several working lineups:

  1. 1.      LF Michael Brantley (Bats: L)
  2. 2.      2B Jason Kipnis (Bats: L)
  3. 3.      SS Asdrubal Cabrera (Bats: S)
  4. 4.      RF Nick Swisher (Bats: S)
  5. 5.      C Carlos Santana (Bats: S)
  6. 6.      1B Mark Reynolds (Bats: R)
  7. 7.      3B Lonnie Chisenhall (Bats: L)
  8. 8.      DH Chris McGuiness (Bats: L)
  9. 9.      LF Drew Stubbs (Bats: R)

I’m not really convinced that Brantley is a leadoff hitter, but don’t forget that Terry Francona lived with Kevin Youkilis as the leadoff guy because of his ability to get on base. While I don’t see Brantley as a similar hitter because of Youk’s power, they do attack the ball in a similar fashion. It’s possible that Brantley becomes a better leadoff hitter simply because Francona believes in it a bit more, and has experience with that type of line-up.

  1. 1.      LF Michael Brantley (Bats: L)
  2. 2.      2B Jason Kipnis (Bats: L)
  3. 3.      SS Asdrubal Cabrera (Bats: S)
  4. 4.      C Carlos Santana (Bats: S)
  5. 5.      RF Nick Swisher (Bats: S)
  6. 6.      1B Mark Reynolds (Bats: R)
  7. 7.      3B Lonnie Chisenhall (Bats: L)
  8. 8.      DH Chris McGuiness (Bats: L)
  9. 9.      LF Drew Stubbs (Bats: R)

This one intrigues me a bit as well, as it would provide Carlos Santana his first real protection offensively in his career. I’m not a fan of Swisher in the five-hole, as I’d want his approach in the top-half of that order to get as many at-bats as possible, but would love to see a scenario in which you couldn’t pitch around Santana. Swisher is the one guy that could provide that…with pop. Sure, you could plug a guy like Brantley in there, but it’s not where you’d want him, in my opinion.

  1. 1.      2B Jason Kipnis (Bats: L)
  2. 2.      SS Asdrubal Cabrera (Bats: S)
  3. 3.      C Carlos Santana (Bats: S)
  4. 4.      RF Nick Swisher (Bats: S)
  5. 5.      1B Mark Reynolds (Bats: R)
  6. 6.      LF Michael Brantley (Bats: L)
  7. 7.      3B Lonnie Chisenhall (Bats: L)
  8. 8.      DH Chris McGuiness (Bats: L)
  9. 9.      LF Drew Stubbs (Bats: R)

I could go on-and-on here, with the point still remaining the same. The Indians have multiple options with regards to their lineup, and now have an equal mix of righties and lefties to impact a rotation. I haven’t even discussed Mike Aviles, or even addressed Chris McGuiness, who may not even be a part of the discussion. I also haven’t included the wildcard, in my opinion, and that’s Lonnie Chisenhall. If he hits the way I think he can, you have another guy that could move up and protect other hitters, or even get into the top half of the line-up as well.

If Asdrubal Cabrera goes, and Avilies fills in, you’d then be looking at a Brantley/Kipnis situation in the 1-2 slots, with Aviles playing in the bottom half of the lineup. I could also see Drew Stubbs in the upper half of the line-up. With his K-rate, that’s not ideal, but the Reds used him in the two-hole 86 times last season, and they made the playoffs.

The Indians line-up options have certainly improved, although I’m not sure they have an ideal lead-off guy right now, which could be an issue as the season progresses.

Finally, the one point that hasn’t been addressed much is whether or not this contract will impact future signings in a negative fashion. What I’m talking about here aren’t future free agents from other clubs, but future Indians’ players. While last season, the Indians moved on Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana long-term. This season, you’d have to believe that guys like Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall (if he’s playing well) and Vinnie Pestano would get long looks.

I’m not sure the Indians are still going to roll in that direction. I figure they still have ten million or so to play with this year. Will they use that on starting pitching? Will they use it for a DH or another first baseman? Will they use it on Kipnis and Pestano?

Who knows right now, but this team is still fluid. If Chris Perez and/or Asdrubal Cabrera are dealt away, or even Justin Masterson, the Indians will gain more cash flexibility, and create new needs.

What will they be? Only time will tell, but it’s clear with this new organizational philosophy, it won’t take long to find out.

 

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

Jim
December 24, 2012 - 11:21 AM EST
Joe--

I'm not a metrics guy in the least, but of course, follow the metrics approach. I appreciate what you're bringing to the table with regards to the Tribe over the past couple of days...great insight...
Jim
December 24, 2012 - 11:19 AM EST
Rob...I really think that the lineup will shake out itself as the year progresses...and I think Chisenhall is a massive sleeper on this team. Great comments about Stubbs as well...I agree that there is a vast amount of potential there. I know Reds fans applied a ton of pressure...
Tony
December 24, 2012 - 11:16 AM EST
Tommy....I have a piece posting in about 30 minutes which should help answer some of those questions.
Jim
December 24, 2012 - 11:12 AM EST
Tommy--

The Indians are focused on starting pitching right now, but if the Indians have taught us anything this offseason, it's that they are clearly working on different levels...and turning every page...

that's a massive difference between this club in 2012, and this club in 2013 and beyond
Joe Werner
December 24, 2012 - 11:09 AM EST
Lineup construction is not irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s certainly not the most pressing issue for a team. Throughout the course of an entire season, if a team optimizes each spot in the lineup correctly, the net gain is approximately 10-15 runs. Or about one full win.
Rob
December 24, 2012 - 11:02 AM EST
I really hope they handle Stubbs with kid gloves and take all pressure off of him to start the year. He was a broken player the last 1/3 of the season in 2012. Limit his exposure to RH's, hit him 8th or 9th, let him get some confidence. The last thing he needs is a slow start and for him to hear the boo birds early on. I'd lead Kipnis off and 6 hole Brantley. Would be great if Lonnie could hit his way into the 5 spot and slide down Reynolds and Brantley a spot.

Best part of this discussion is that this actually looks like a Major League lineup compared to the 2011 crapfest,
tommy hinzo
December 24, 2012 - 11:02 AM EST
Tony, do you think Tribe invests in another bat or are they focused primarily on just a veteran starter to round out the off season? Would sure love to add Scott Hairston.
Jim
December 24, 2012 - 10:37 AM EST
I don't think that Stubbs leading off is insane, but I do think that you have to be up in the .350 or above range to make it effective in any lineup...but especially the Indians lineup...

I think the door is open though, and think that the Indians aren't done making moves as of yet.

Rich, I hear you...but I do think there are things still on the table for Brantley that we haven't seen yet.
Richard
December 24, 2012 - 10:00 AM EST
As far as the batting order,,,
I know this sounds crazy right now, but if Stubbs can return to the stats of 2010, with a OBP of .329 w/ 30 SB and 22 HR; I'd try him at leadoff. Speed on the bases puts pressure on the defense.
Tony
December 24, 2012 - 9:15 AM EST
Yeah, I think it will ultimately come down to Francona's decision on this one. To me, it looks like Brantley or Kipnis will lead off and the other will hit 6th. I too think over his career that Brantley has proven to be a much better hitter and producer with runners on base and hitting lower in the order.
Rich
December 24, 2012 - 9:12 AM EST
I'm not a fan of Brantley leading off. Last year's splits:

Leadoff: .227 BA/.292 OPS (He was awful in the #1 position)
Batting 5th: .308/.366
Batting 6th: .350/.418

With nobody on: .282/.320
Runners on: .295/.380

Brantley was much better hitting down in the order and coming up with runners on base. He seemed comfortable in those situations. He had a sub-.300 OBP in the leadoff spot. That seals it right there for me.

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