How Does Nick Swisher Make the New York Yankees' Roster?

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IFebruary 27, 2009

Nick Swisher was acquired by the New York Yankees in the offseason in a trade with the Chicago White Sox.

At the time, the Yankees were looking for a first base replacement for Jason Giambi, who the team was not going to pursue as a free agent after his seven seasons in New York.

But about six weeks later, the Yankees signed free agent superstar Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract and Swisher's days of playing first base in the Bronx were over before they could begin.

Swisher had also seen considerable playing time in the outfield during his five seasons in Oakland and Chicago, but the Yankees did not acquire him to play in the outfield.

Barring an injury to Teixeira, the only place for Swisher now is some place in the large pasture that makes up the biggest part of the playing field in the new Yankee Stadium.

Johnny Damon has one year left on his contract with New York and will earn $13 million this season. He is expected to be the starting left fielder.

Xavier Nady, obtained in mid-season 2008 in a trade with Pittsburgh, is slotted to start in right field.

He inked a one-year contract with the Yankees in the offseason and will replace Bobby Abreu who provided very good defense and excellent offensive production from the right field position for the past two and a half years.

Center field is up for grabs. Melky Cabrera was the opening day starter there each of the last two seasons, but lost his job late last year when his offensive production and concentration both suffered badly.

When Cabrera was demoted to Triple-A Scranton last year, Brett Gardner was recalled to New York, where he played very well in the field and provided excitement with his speed on the bath paths. But his hitting was so bad that he was not on base often enough to earn the job outright.

Hideki Matsui had been the Yankee left fielder for several seasons before a wrist injury and constant knee problems put him on the disabled list repeatedly. Matsui is still rehabbing from a second straight knee surgery, but is expected to be the primary designated hitter in New York this season.

So the Yankees have six players who have been primarily outfielders. Only Matsui will be considered primarily as DH, although he could play some games in left field.

Starting catcher Jorge Posada is also coming off season-ending shoulder surgery and is not expected to catch more than 110 games this year. Another factor that will probably limit his time behind the plate is his age. He will turn 38 in August.

Posada's bat is badly needed to add punch to the bottom half of the order and when he is not catching, he will surely see some time as DH.

Damon hit over .300 last year and is the only true leadoff hitter the Yankees have. But his defense has depreciated greatly in the past few seasons. He has had leg injuries that have slowed him.

And Damon's throwing arm is so weak that teams know they can take advantage of him to advance an extra base on any ball hit in his direction.

His defensive liabilities were the primary reason the Yanks went the trade route last year to bring Nady in to play left field. They knew then that Damon was not adequate on defense.

With Damon's weakness defensively, the Yankees must have a superior defensive center fielder, and either Cabrera or Gardner can provide that.

Both cover a great deal of ground and while Gardner has only an average arm for the huge Yankee outfield, Cabrera has one of the best guns in the majors.

Some have speculated that Swisher is competing for the starting right field position. But his career numbers may not justify the disrespect this shows for Nady.

Nady has proven he can play in New York and produce. Nady's career batting average is 36 points higher than Swisher's.

But Nady has averaged fewer home runs and RBI than Nick, and Swisher is slightly higher in OPS and OBP+.

However, Swisher dropped off dramatically last year with the White Sox. He hit only .219 with 24 homers and only 69 RBI in 153 games. That type of performance will not win him many games in the Bronx.

Another factor that has come to light only since Spring Training has started is that Swisher is apparently a real asset in the clubhouse. Everyone has commented on his totally positive and upbeat attitude.

He has also recently introduced music to a usually staid Yankee clubhouse. From reports by announcer Michael Kay, Swisher was not satisfied with how quiet the locker room was and asked Manager Joe Girardi if he could play some music.

Girardi reportedly told him to let it blast and Swisher has livened things up in the "Board Room" with a mix of Rap, R&B and other music.

But Damon, Matsui, and Nady are almost certain to remain with the big club.

Either Cabrera or Gardner will be the center fielder.

There is some thought that if Gardner does not win the starting job, he will remain with the team anyway, because of the added element of speed and the fact that Damon will probably need a defensive replacement late in close games.

One final factor is that many people believe Girardi will start the season with seven bullpen pitchers. If the Yanks take twelve pitchers north, there is only room for four bench players.

Jose Molina is the backup catcher. There must be at least one backup infielder, who will probably be Cody Ransom who can play all four infield positions and adds an element of speed the team lacks.

So where does Swisher fit in? There will be few games for him at first. DH does not seem to be an option with Matsui as the regular and Posada almost certain to see time there as well.

Brett Gardner still has options to be sent back to Triple A and, if that is done, Swisher may make the team.

But without question, there are too many fly catchers on this pinstriped team and the casualty may be Nick Swisher.

The question probably boils down to three players. If Melky Cabrera starts in center, do the Yankees keep Gardner as well?

There would still be room for Swisher unless Girardi feels he has to have one more infielder. Angel Berroa would seem to be the most likely winner of the slot if that decision is made.

Even if Nick Swisher makes the team it is difficult to determine how he gets much playing time on this team where, despite question marks, there seem to be too many players for the number of at-bats available.