By now, everyone has had time to digest the biggest trade since the season started: the epic, nine-player deal that send Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and Adrian Gonzalez– and, more importantly, their combined payroll hit of about a quarter of a BILLION dollars– to the Dodgers for three prospects and two players to be named later. The move creates huge financial flexibility for the Red Sox as they look to re-stock in the free-agent market next year, begging the question: could Nick Swisher become a Red Sox in 2013?
Swisher will be a free-agent in 2013, and while he’s a huge fan favorite in New York, and his left-handed power swing plays well with the short right-field porch in the new Yankee Stadium, he’s said to be looking for Jayson Werth-type money (7 years, $126 million). Brian Cashman has been given a directive to get below the $189 payroll threshold before the 2014 season, and has hinted at extensions for Robinson Cano (sure, for the right price) and Curtis Granderson (don’t do it!). Unless Swisher is willing to take a substantial discount to stay, it’s unlikely that Swisher will be in a Yankees’ uniform next year.
Meanwhile, the salary dump of Beckett/Crawford/Gonzalez clears about $60 million dollars in payroll over each of the next two seasons. The Red Sox do have a serviceable, productive outfield in Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Daniel Nava, and for at least one more season, Jacoby Ellsbury. Nava and Sweeney are both arbitration eligible and affordable, while Cody Ross will be a free-agent in 2013, but with good production this year (.278/.329/.520) and a cheap $3 million dollar deal in 2012, he’ll probably be back for the Sox. Part of the big discussion for the Red Sox will be whether or not to extend Ellsbury, who will be a free-agent in 2014 (and is represented by super-agent Scott Boras).
Comparing the two, Ellsbury is 28 years-old, and has lifetime slash-line of .298/.351./.445, while Swisher (.255/.360/.468) will be 32 in November. We all know of Swisher’s talents for getting on-base (hint: Billy Beane drafted him), and his power numbers, but he will have four extra years of tread on the tires as opposed to Ellsbury. Further, Swisher’s slugging percentage has soared in adjustment for Yankee Stadium (and that short right-field porch), and is higher during his time as a Yankee (with the sole exception of his 2010 All-Star season) than at any other point in his career.
Since 2008, those numbers are, on average, .487 SLG compared to .451 SLG in Chicago/Oakland– though, to be fair, the Oakland Coliseum is a canyon. However, Swisher primarily bats left-handed, and it’s unclear how the triangle configuration in right at Fenway would play to his lefty, power-hitting strength. Defensively, Swisher and Ellsbury have exactly the same OF fielding percentage, a stellar .986. (Note: this figure totals only Swisher’s time as an outfielder. He can also play first base, a now-obvious vacancy in Boston with the trade of Gonzalez, so that could appeal to the Sox, as well.) Bottom-line: it’s probably a better deal to sign Ellsbury long-term than Swisher from a baseball perspective.
From a financial vantage point, the biggest problem for a potential deal between Swisher and the Red Sox would simply be the dollars. While Swisher can ask for any deal he wants, he’s probably unlikely to get Werth-type figures, particularly with the Red Sox, who just managed to finagle their way (absolutely brilliantly, I might add) out of one of the worst contracts in baseball by trading Crawford. The Sox might look to shy away from a big-priced free agent outfielder, instead opting to keep the outfield anchored by Ellsbury, and supported by Nava/Sweeny/Ross, regardless of if they can work out a contract extension with Ellsbury before 2014. Similarly, the Red Sox run production hasn’t been an issue: they still rank top 5 in MLB in runs scored this year, despite their dreadful season, a horrific start by Gonzalez and 89 missed games by Crawford. By contrast, their starting pitching has absolutely collapsed. The onus will probably be on Ben Cherington & Co. to add depth and retool this area before exploring outfield options.
Overall, it’s probably unlikely that Nick Swisher returns to the Bronx, or gets his mega-deal along the lines of Crawford or Werth. He’ll probably end up somewhere in Nick Markakis territory (6 years/$66 million), but maybe a few more dollars tacked on for good measure. So while Swisher probably won’t be saluting the Bleacher Creatures next year, take heart Yankees fans, since it’s also unlikely he’ll be headed up I-95, either.