Teams have to determine if Swisher is worth money, pick
Free agent outfielder Nick Swisher left Cleveland yesterday afternoon. What destination he was heading to next on his free agent tour is still a mystery, but even though he departed without signing a contract the Indians still appear the frontrunner to sign him.
The Indians spent the better part of two days on Monday evening most of Tuesday wooing Swisher. First over dinner in downtown Cleveland on Monday night with several people in the Indians decision-making process, and then Tuesday at Progressive Field where he toured the facilities and they pulled out all the stops with a scoreboard display of him hitting fourth with two homers and then special video messages from Ohio State coaches Urban Meyer, Thad Matta, and Greg Beals.
No matter what the Indians offered or how much they bowled Swisher over, the expectation going in was that he would not sign a contract until he visited all the teams on his tour. But the Indians certainly went way out of their way, and some would say in almost desperate fashion. But that is the reality the Indians face in that they have to go to such lengths to get any free agent to come to Cleveland because money simply is not going to be enough.
Now that Swisher has left town, it remains to be seen where he goes or what happens next. The likelihood is that he would like to wrap all of this up before Christmas, so things could come to a head by the end of the weekend, if not sooner.
As to who else is interested, teams such as the Rangers, Phillies, Mariners, Red Sox, Giants, and Orioles have been mentioned this offseason, but a lot of them have either moved on and signed other players or are currently lukewarm in their pursuit of Swisher.
The Indians, Mariners, and Rangers appear to be the only teams that have a true interest in Swisher, but the problem for any team considering signing him is not just if he is worth the money, but is he worth the loss of a first round pick?
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams that make qualifying offers to free agents are subject to compensation of a first round supplemental pick if the player declines the qualifiying offer and signs elsewhere. The team that signs the player loses their first round pick and that pick is simply absorbed and does not go to any team (the first round is one pick shorter and all picks behind that pick are moved up one slot). The one exception to this rule is for teams that have a pick in the top ten as their pick is protected and they would then lose their second round pick.
The Indians have the fifth overall pick in the 2013 Draft, so if they were to sign Swisher their first round pick is protected and they would lose their second round pick (no one gets the pick it is simply erased). By contrast, if the Mariners or Rangers sign Swisher, they would lose their first round pick, which for the Mariners would be a big loss considering they have the 12th overall selection.
It is important to note that not only does the first round pick itself have value, the pick also represents a pre-determined amount of money a team has in its bonus pool to sign their picks from the first ten rounds. A first round pick can be valued anywhere from $1 million to $5 million or so, and is the most expensive pick in a team’s bonus pool. A loss of the pick not only means the loss of drafting a good player, but more importantly, the loss of a significant amount of money in their pool to be creative with the rest of their draft.
The Indians would lose some bonus pool money with the loss of their second round pick, but it would not nearly be as much of a hit as their first round pick. Also, the Indians were awarded a compensation between the second and third round in the first Competitive Balance Lottery that was held late in the season. With essentially two second round picks, the Indians can use that lottery pick to help offset the loss of their second round pick and the loss in bonus pool money would be minimal.
The loss of a draft pick may be the biggest reason why Swisher’s market has not developed as he hoped this offseason, and it plays into the Indians’ favor. The Mariners are said to be out because they do not feel he is worth the loss of their 12th overall pick, and the Rangers are said to be “so-so” on him. That leaves the Indians, which we know, are all-in on him.
The dark horse in all of this could be the Red Sox as they have money to spend and have a protected first round pick as well. They have had interest in Swisher all offseason, although it dropped considerably when they signed Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. If Napoli’s contract falls through, then the Red Sox could become a frontrunner for Swisher.
How this all plays out will be interesting to follow over the next few days, but the Indians still look like the most logical landing point for Swisher at this point. In the end, though, the decision still rests with him on where he goes, and it is hard to gauge how he feels about signing with the Indians or taking less to go elsewhere. And as always, a team can come in at the last moment and sign him, which is something we have seen play out often in the free agency process in baseball the past few years.
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If only I hadn't lived so long that I know most decisions are not based on logic, I'd be happy (and confident).
So teams still get penalized for signing big FA, but teams no longer get buckets of picks for players they lose, like the Rays did with like 10 picks in the first 2 rounds two years ago.