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Why a Nick Swisher trade will not actually benefit Cleveland

Though Swisher fell off in 2014, trading him now does not make sense

Why a Nick Swisher trade will not actually benefit Cleveland
Nick Swisher (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
November 19, 2014
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Nick Swisher is a big name going around the hot stove lately, with reports out that Cleveland could be looking to move the soon-to-be 34-year-old in a bad contract-for-bad contract swap.

But while many seem ready to move on from Swisher, such a trade may be premature.

There is no denying the 2014 version of Swisher was one of the worst regular players in baseball. Following a decent 2013 season, everything fell apart for Swisher.

The bat plummeted, with Swisher going from a 128 wRC+ in 2012 to a 115 wRC+ in 2013 to a 75 wRC+ in 2014. Consistency at the plate was the name of the game for Swisher, yet last year, he was significantly below-average for the first time in his career and fell well short of 20 home runs -- only hitting eight -- after achieving that feat every full season he had been in the majors.

His defense regressed as well, as Swisher went from rating out decently at first base to being easily below-average and contributing in a large way to Cleveland’s much-maligned defense. A team can live with poor defense if a player is raking at the plate -- or bad hitting if he is lights-out in the field -- but in 2014, Swisher was doing neither.

In addition to the on-the-field problems, Swisher injured his knees, both of which required surgery. The injuries limited Swisher to 401 plate appearances, the first time he had dropped below 600 since 2008 (when he had 588). Prior to 2014, Swisher was essentially a lock for 600 plate appearances; now that is not guaranteed.

All together, this adds up to a player whose numbers were pretty bad, who now has very real injury issues, and is almost certainly on the downside of his career entering his age-34 season.

When a team signs a player to a long-term deal, the assumption is there will be value in the first few years before the contract turns into an albatross on the back end. In Swisher's case, things took a turn for the worst in year two.

With two years and $30 million still to go, assuming his $14 million option for 2017 does not vest (it probably will not given it would take Swisher surpassing 550 plate appearances in 2016 and passing an end-of-season physical -- something your organization likely would not let happen -- but it is still technically in play), Swisher's deal is not one helping Cleveland. But while removing Swisher from the books would be nice, practically, that's a hard thing to do.

If Cleveland does not want Swisher on the team because he is not as good of a player as before, then why would any other team want him? General manager Chris Antonetti cannot simply snap his fingers and make Swisher disappear; someone has to want to take on his contract. To do that, it looks like Cleveland will have to take another bad contract back.

In order to justify trading Swisher for another player with a bad contract, it would seem necessary for Cleveland to find value in the player coming back. But none of the rumored players truly make sense for Cleveland.

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Trade options like Ubaldo Jimenez are not really better for Cleveland (Photo:

Plenty of fans are looking for a reunion with Ubaldo Jimenez, but Cleveland really has no incentive to bring the right-hander back into the fold. In addition to needing depth more than starters on guaranteed contracts -- as Tony wrote about on Monday -- Jimenez also fell off tremendously in 2014 and would be under contract for an extra year (three years, $38.75 million).

Jimenez has now sandwiched a 3.3 fWAR 2013 with marks of 0.2 fWAR in 2012 and 0.5 fWAR in 2014, likely meaning Jimenez is just not that great of a pitcher. Maybe a reunion with pitching coach Mickey Callaway would help Jimenez, but there are cheaper options for him to work his magic on (like a healthier Shaun Marcum on a minor league contract, for example).

In addition to other issues, swapping Swisher to Atlanta in return for B.J. Upton carries the same timing issue as Jimenez. Upton is owed $46.35 million over the next three seasons -- essentially extending the commitment Cleveland has already made to Swisher -- and is no guarantee to be better than him in 2015. Swisher’s problem is more tied to his age, but while Upton is entering his age-30 season, he has been even worse than Swisher lately. Upton “improved” his offense to a .208/.287/.333 line and 74 wRC+ in 2014 (following a .184/.268/.289 line and 55 wRC+ in 2013) and is now on the wrong side of 30.

While Upton would make a better option defensively, it is far from certain Upton will hit enough to make it worthwhile. He has been a replacement-level player for the last two seasons; why bother bringing Upton in and committing to him for an extra year?

The final name attached has been Ryan Howard, which is one that makes the least sense, especially since he is owed $50 million over the next two years (plus a $10 million buyout of his 2017 club option). The Phillies are looking to move Howard to save at least some money; why would they agree to bring Swisher’s contract back in a trade?

Additionally, Howard is simply not a good player anymore (he has been worth -1.0 fWAR over the last three seasons), does not add much of anything with his bat even though he hit 23 home runs in 2014, and is even older than Swisher. There are questions about Swisher’s offense, but at least he can fake some time in the outfield and has a recent history of defending well at first base. Howard is a bad defender at first and probably best suited for DH duty, a position Cleveland likes to leave open to rest regulars. Plus, Howard is probably best used as a platoon bat at this point in his career; the last thing Cleveland needs is yet another left-handed hitter.

In order to make a trade happen, it seems like the organization would have to believe anyone but Swisher was a better option. But why take on the extra costs of Jimenez, Upton, or Howard, especially when a Swisher bounce back appears quite possible?

Swisher went from 2.3 fWAR in 2013 to -1.6 fWAR in 2014, and even accounting for the fact that WAR is best used as guidelines and not really accurate down to the decimal point, a four-WAR drop-off in one season screams fluky. Sure, it can be understandable -- especially given the injuries -- but it seems doubtful Swisher’s true talent went from roughly average to absolutely unplayable in one season. That would be similar to seeing Yan Gomes go from where he was in 2014 to needing to be sent to Triple-A; those kind of collapses are rare.

Plus, while Swisher stopped hitting, a decent amount of his issues came from his defensive metrics dropping drastically. That pairs well with the injuries and the eye-test, but it is still best to trust a player’s true talent on defense to three-year samples. Swisher had been above-average at first base throughout his career until 2014; assuming health, it would not be a surprise to see him be serviceable next season.

A Swisher bounce back probably will not look like much, but being a 0.5 to 1.0 WAR player in 2015 feels like a real possibility, assuming he is mostly healthy again. Last year was everything going wrong all at once; what are the odds that happens again?

Anyone but Swisher might be exciting after watching him in 2014, but with the trade options looking more unappealing than what is already on hand, keeping Swisher for 2015 looks like the better course of action.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

Jim DIno
November 22, 2014 - 8:42 AM EST
I say trade Bourne instead. That would open up CF for James Ramsey and Tyler Naquin. Then Swisher and Zack Walters can share the RF-DH jobs. Do you think Swisher's pride will allow him to go out on such a bad season? I think he will work hard to rehab his knees, and come back like gangbusters in 2015. They can trade Murphy to the NL, where I think his bat will play very well, and maybe get an arm back in return. And don't trade Lonnie Chisenhall. When Lindor comes up, slide Ramirez over to platoon with Chiz at 3B. Remember last year, when he had competition for the job, he played well.
November 21, 2014 - 12:30 PM EST
I'm in agreement on this for a couple of reasons. First, Swisher isn't just a player, he was a relatively major free agent who signed in Cleveland (and likely made the Bourn signing plausible as well), and he's been a big advocate for the team. He's got goodwill as an Ohio guy. Whether or not the signing worked out, he served the same kind of role that Jayson Werth served for the Nationals -- he made the team appear legitimate just by signing.

Second, if we're trading him for another bad contract, the other contracts are going to be more costly and more deficient. He's due to make $30 million, which is now the going rate for a year and a half of Homer Bailey. While I don't have any confidence he's going to be worth $30 million, the Indians don't have great alternatives for the lineup spot. I like Zach Walters, but if he's going to be a major leaguer, he needs to be able to handle third base. Mike Aviles as a designated hitter is a terrifying thought, Raburn doesn't hit right-handers, and since the Indians don't appear to ever be willing to have Santana behind the plate again, Roberto Perez can't DH.

Swisher is more versatile in that he can play multiple positions not very well (which is still better than Howard), he's a switch hitter who has historically hit lefties (important on a team rife with left-handed bats), and he seems genuinely happy to be playing for the Indians. And, unlike Howard/Upton, his awful 2014 might not be entirely attributable to age-related decline. Just keep the guy and if he doesn't work out as a DH/1B/RF, we can make him perform songs from his album before every game.
Ted L
November 20, 2014 - 11:15 PM EST
If they can trade Swisher they almost must follow one of two plans. The first is a less contract for the same years Swisher has on his contract. The second a larger contract for one season. And that contract cannot exceed 20 million.

Also, the guy we get must have a redeeming quality. Either a very good glove or being a good offensive player. It would be nice if he were right handed.

I have to agree with your thesis. We could only get hurt in such a trade. They could end up with a worse contract than Swishers. We may just have to bite the bullet and hope he gets more promising as the deadline nears.
November 20, 2014 - 5:05 PM EST
Not sure either of these deals are realistic but here's a cpl...

Swisher and Scrabble for Allen Craig and Will Middlebrooks.

Swisher and Murphy for BJ Upton and Gattis?

Swisher for Matt Kemp, Scott Schebler and $40M?

Honestly, the most appealing idea is trading Bourn for Edwin Jackson. I saw Jackson pitch earlier this yr, the stuff is still there, I'm not sure why he's had an ugly time with the Cubs, but I have confidence Callaway might correct what ails him.
November 20, 2014 - 1:17 PM EST
The original report mentioned Cody Ross as a possibility. He's been bad for the D-Backs but he could be a better platoon partner than Raburn in RF with Murphy. His 2015 salary is less than Swisher's and has a buy-out for 2016. Anybody think this could be a possibility? Or how about Mark Buerhle? Would have to take on additional salary in 2015 but then would be off the hook for 2016. Even if we had to kick in a Ramsey/Naquin type prospect and/or some extra cash for 2016 it might be worth to alleviate that 15 million from the books for 2016 while adding a very good veteran arm to the rotation for 2015.
November 20, 2014 - 10:26 AM EST
Any chance of Smoke Signals returning before or after the Winter meetings. I always enjoyed them during the season.

November 20, 2014 - 10:00 AM EST
I side more with Jim Piascik on this one. I'd rather keep Swisher than deal for Ubaldo. Ubaldo does not serve as pitching depth. He's an albatross contract you would hope and pray Callaway can get going again. That's a poor gamble to take when you have finite resources. I'd rather take a shot on a non-guaranteed reclamation project who has no big money or long term control tied to him and see what Callaway can do. That makes a lot more sense.
Larry M
November 20, 2014 - 9:57 AM EST
Daingean, you have it right. Always be evaluating... looking for options and solutions...I do trust that is what CA is doing.
I'm not sure why, but as a group, we seem to get very emotional about these hypothetical situations and rumors. I think it is great fun to discuss, but it is not as if any of us thinking one way or another will make it so.
November 20, 2014 - 9:07 AM EST
Jimmy, Antonetti said that in early August while Swisher was still playing. It was before he got hurt again and had the double surgery.
November 20, 2014 - 8:59 AM EST
Everyone forgot that Chris said in an article that Swisher would get practice and be our right fielder.
Does anyone remember the article? I hope not.
November 20, 2014 - 7:23 AM EST
Certainly garner Swisher's value.....if it exceeds how you value the player then make a deal. That should be for anyone on the team. In the end, I think Swish will rebound this season. How much of a rebound, we'll have to say. Right now he's at his lowest value to other teams (2013/14 performance + salary).

Saying that the one I think has enough value is Bourn. His performance isn't that off but I see him breaking down (hammy issues which I see getting progressively worse over the next couple of years). If a deal can be made then I'm all for it (even if the return is a BJ Upton + lots of cash + prospect).
C L Who
November 20, 2014 - 1:41 AM EST
Right you are. Swisher is going nowhere.

For his career he's been an above average defensive player and power hitter. He's got pride and ego. I lean toward the view that in 2015 he'll duplicate or improve on 2013. His knee surgeries were not that big a deal and an 8 to 10 week rehab was indicated.
November 19, 2014 - 11:05 PM EST
Read the pros and cons on trading Swisher. However no one has mention why would a another team would want to trade for Swisher. There is very low/no demand for his services, therefore Indian fans will see Swisher most likely as DH in 2015.

November 19, 2014 - 10:57 PM EST
There is no way to judge this question without knowing the condition of his knees and his attitude as to doing the work to be in shape next year. I still think he has the class to not embarrass himself and he just might retire ala Travis Fryman.

November 19, 2014 - 8:20 PM EST
With some of the names people are tossing around for the Indians to acquire, along with the names people are adding to Swisher to make it happen....

I'm very happy Chris Antonetti is the GM.
November 19, 2014 - 7:59 PM EST
And yes, I think it would be ok to throw Nick Hagadone in w Swisher if that's what it takes.
November 19, 2014 - 7:54 PM EST
W the age and the double knee ops, it's less than 50/50 Swisher will be agile enough to play well in the outfield, and he does not make enough contact to be an everyday DH, not for a team like the Indians. Great clubhouse guy, and the vivacious quirky personality and occasional long ball skill set has to be worth something. He could maybe put an AL team over the top, if they were already close. The Red Sox may be that team. They are definitely going for it next year, my people say the Sandoval signing is imminent. I say trade him to the RedSox for Middlebrooks and Bradley, and pay half his salary Mr. Dolan. You have to pay him, but you don't have to play him.
November 19, 2014 - 7:01 PM EST
The biggest problem I have with Swisher is that he is blocking Aguilar. I think Nick will rebound nicely and create some interest, or atleast I hope that's the case.
November 19, 2014 - 6:08 PM EST
One thing we know about Swisher is he loves the game of baseball! I say he deserves a chance. If he can recover enough to somewhat equate to Ellis Burks and a switch hitter, I'm all in!
November 19, 2014 - 6:06 PM EST
IMO the idea of trading Swisher is pure idiocy.
C L Who
November 19, 2014 - 5:02 PM EST
Maybe I'm crazy, but one place a guy like Swisher could have some value is in the Japanese league. Former Yankee, former All Star, probability of some rebound in 2015. Maybe if the Tribe pays 60% of the freight, Swish could go far East.
matt underwood
November 19, 2014 - 4:57 PM EST
count me on shipping swisher out to "souvenir city" - i cant imagine he will come back even a shell of his former self
November 19, 2014 - 4:57 PM EST
Jim, you make more sense to me than Jellis on this one. Not a big fan of Swisher but he is worth a try until our prospects sort out. The Indians do not have anyone who fits better as a DH and occasional 1B/OF to start the season and these trades do not necessarily make the team better or rid the Tribe of financial liability. Just as easy to wait until mid season when there is better info on the prospects and possibly easier to dump salary.
November 19, 2014 - 3:37 PM EST
Agree with this. This is all just talk that is really unlikely to amount to anything and not based on much more than random speculation. Of course the Indians will shop Swisher, but the odds of finding a taker in a situation that makes sense are long. No NL team makes any sense because Swisher is at best a DH. If the Indians actually had a need for starting pitching, you might find some fit there, somewhere, but the Indians have no need to take on a pitcher rebuilding project with their rotation.
November 19, 2014 - 3:23 PM EST
Count me out of wanting any of the players mentioned for Swisher. I think he has a legitimate shot at bouncing back, especially if he is used as the DH. I think the chances are even greater that he rebounds if Francona only uses him in favorable matchups (ala Chisenhall at the beginning of 2014).

The one bad contract I'd consider would be Swisher + prospect (or our competitive lottery pick) + $7M ($5M in 2015 and $2M in 2016) for Cody Ross.

Ross has a buyout of $1M in 2016, and I'd be willing to go up to $10M in cash going to the D'backs to make the deal work. That would clear a little cash this year (potentially for a bullpen arm) and significant money next year (which is when we are really in a crunch).
November 19, 2014 - 2:51 PM EST
Thanks Jim. While I'm not sure if keeping Swisher for 2015 looks like the better course of action, I'm pretty sure its the only possible course of action. 8--)

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