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Analyzing Nick Swisher's Potential Impact on the Boston Red Sox

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Analyzing Nick Swisher's Potential Impact on the Boston Red Sox
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox will be looking for a fresh start in 2013, and the road they're currently on should lead them to a fresh start.

The Red Sox began their rebuild back in August when they sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to Los Angeles. When the season ended, they didn't hesitate to show Bobby Valentine and his wacky ways the door.

Valentine has since been replaced by John Farrell, who most agree is the perfect man for the job. Now all he needs is more talented players, and that's a job for Ben Cherington.

Might Cherington target Nick Swisher, perhaps?

It's possible. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote way back in August that Swisher would probably find his way onto Boston's radar this winter. More recently, people like Chris Cwik of CBSSports.com have identified the Red Sox as one of several realistic suitors for Swisher.

Wouldn't this be something? It's always fun when former Red Sox players become Yankees, and vice versa. If Swisher were to go from The Bronx to Boston, his crossover would be the most high-profile Yankees-Red Sox crossover since Johnny Damon in 2006. 

But how realistic is the idea of the Red Sox signing Swisher as a free agent? If they do, what kind of impact would he make?

Good questions. Let's discuss.

 

First of All, Here's Why This Makes Sense

There doesn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of support for the idea of the Red Sox signing Swisher among the members of Red Sox Nation. Most Sox fans are on the fence about him.

In fact, most fans in general are on the fence about Swisher. He's a good player, but he's not a superstar, and he may not even qualify as a mere star.

This much can be said about Swisher, though: He's as solid as a rock.

Swisher has a career OPS of .828, and he hasn't posted an OPS under .800 in a single season since he was with the Chicago White Sox in 2006. In his four years with the Yankees, an average season for Swisher consisted of an .850 OPS, 26 home runs and 87 RBI.

Among outfielders with at least 2,000 plate appearances logged over the last four seasons, Swisher's .850 OPS ranks ninth just behind Josh Willingham's .854 OPS, according to FanGraphs.

Numbers like these make Swisher worth a not-insignificant amount of money. When Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported back in August that Swisher was looking for a deal similar to the seven-year, $126 million contract Jayson Werth got from the Washington Nationals back in 2010, it made sense. People were laughing at Swisher, but his numbers compared very favorably to Werth's at the time he was set to hit free agency following the 2010 season.

However, this was before Swisher's season ended a down note. He managed a mere .735 OPS in September and then he posted a .469 OPS in the postseason. 

Al Bello/Getty Images
The fact that Jayson Werth has been a huge bust for the Nationals doesn't help Swisher's cause.

Swisher will go looking for a Werth-esque contract once he declines the qualifying offer Heyman says the Yankees are going to offer him, but he's not going to get it. Instead of making $18 million per year, it's easy to see Swisher having to settle for somewhere between $10 and $15 million per year.

The Red Sox can afford an annual salary like that. For that matter, they can do pretty much whatever they want with their payroll, as they only have about $46 million in salaries committed for the 2013 season, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

The obvious rebuttal: Yeah, but why should the Red Sox be willing to pay Swisher that kind of money? Didn't they just get themselves in a whole bunch of trouble by handing out silly free-agent contracts?

It's a legit gripe. The Red Sox are widely expected to be conservative with their spending this offseason, and their recent history with free agents has a lot to do with it. If they were to sign Swisher, they'd have a lot of people saying "Here we go again."

The Red Sox may take a chance on Swisher anyway, however, because they need a player like him.

The Red Sox have three major holes in their lineup to fill this offseason: both corner outfield spots and first base. Even if they fill one by re-signing Cody Ross, they'll still be in need of a corner outfielder and/or a first baseman.

Swisher, of course, is both.

Swisher's primary position is right field, and that's where he would likely spend the bulk of his time in Boston if the Red Sox were to sign him, with Ross moving over to left field. The other option would be to have Swisher trade off between right field and first base, a position where he logged 259 innings this past season.

Defensively, Swisher holds his own in both right field and at first base. Per FanGraphs, he posted positive UZRs at both positions in 2012. 

Swisher's versatility would allow the Red Sox to kill two birds with one stone in the short-term, and they could move him to first base on a full-time basis down the road if his body starts to break down a little.

All of this is to say nothing of Swisher's versatile bat. He's a solid switch-hitter who can hit anywhere in the lineup, and the Red Sox are just one of many teams that could use a player like that.

 

What Swisher Would Bring to the Table

If the Red Sox sign Swisher, they'll be getting a guy who can play at least two positions while providing solid production and some power from both sides of the plate.

But the biggest question where Swisher is concerned is exactly how much he would produce away from the Yankees. After all, he was pretty terrible the last time he played on a team other than the Yankees, and you just never know with Yankees hitters once you remove them from Yankee Stadium.

People would be singing a different tune if Swisher hadn't slumped down the stretch. He had an .850 OPS as late as August 29, and he could have finished with as many as 30 homers at the rate he was going. 

Elsewhere, I'm not worried about the "It was the Yankees lineup!" and the "It was Yankee Stadium!" theories if I'm the Red Sox. The one bad year Swisher had with the White Sox in 2008 is really the only bad year he's had in his career. Before that, he put up solid numbers hitting in an Oakland lineup that didn't feature a ton of firepower.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Swisher could clang a few balls off the Green Monster if he were to play half his games at Fenway Park.

As for the ballpark switch, getting Swisher out of Yankee Stadium and into Fenway Park may actually be ideal. He has an .899 OPS in his career at Fenway, much higher than the .832 OPS he has at Yankee Stadium. He has a higher slugging percentage at Fenway, too, .522 to .460.

At the absolute very least, one thing the Red Sox could count on getting from Swisher is a high on-base percentage. He has a .361 OBP for his career, and his average OBP as a Yankee was .367. A .367 OBP would have been good enough for second-best on the 2012 Red Sox behind David Ortiz.

Beyond the numbers, what everyone has to appreciate about Swisher is that he's a great guy to have in the clubhouse. His antics are annoying if you're a player or a fan on the other side, but not if he's on your team. As goofy as he is, his enthusiasm for the game is very real.

The Red Sox need players like that right now. A losing culture took over Boston's clubhouse towards the end of the 2011 season, and it only got worse in 2012. In order to change the culture in the clubhouse, the Red Sox need players who genuinely care about what they're doing and how they're doing it.

Swisher is precisely the kind of player the Red Sox are looking for, and it's not hard to imagine him fitting in well alongside Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz and Ross if and when they are re-signed.

As for how Swisher would fit in the lineup...

 

How He Would Impact the Lineup

Swisher hit pretty much everywhere for the Yankees in 2012. He hit second, he hit third, he hit fourth, he hit fifth, he hit sixth and he hit seventh. Only a few places were totally off-limits.

So it would be if Swisher were to join the Red Sox. It's hard to predict what their lineup is going to look like until they round out their roster, but it's not hard to imagine how Swisher would fit among a core group of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Cody Ross.

Assuming the Red Sox keep Ellsbury, he'll be the club's everyday leadoff man. In this case, one's first impulse would be to say that Pedroia is a lock for the No. 2 hole.

But maybe not. That's a spot where Swisher has a career OPS of .819, not that far off from the .837 OPS Pedroia has in his career as a No. 2 hitter.

Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Relevant? Not really. But worth sharing.

What the Red Sox could do instead is bat Swisher second and Pedroia third, where he has an .840 OPS in his career. Ortiz would follow Pedroia in the cleanup spot, and Ross would bat fifth.

Or, the Red Sox could keep Pedroia in the No. 2 hole and bat Big Papi in his customary No. 3 spot. Swisher could back him up in the cleanup spot, a place where he has a career .944 OPS.

Or, Ross could hit cleanup and Swisher could hit fifth, a spot where he has an .876 OPS in his career.

For what it's worth, Swisher has an .805 OPS in his career as a No. 6 hitter, an .850 OPS as a No. 7 hitter and an .838 OPS as a No. 8 hitter. Wherever he's hit, he's been an above-average producer.

This is a comforting thing for the Red Sox to know. Most high-profile free agents have a spot in the batting order that they prefer, and they can get pretty messed up if they don't get to hit there with a new team.

For further reading on that phenomenon, see Crawford, Carl.

 

How He Would Impact the Red Sox's Standing in the AL East

By all accounts, the Red Sox have a long way to go before they're ready to contend again. Their roster detonation in August was something that had to happen, but it definitely set them back a few paces.

...Or did it?

The Red Sox have a lot of work to do before they can be confident in their roster for the 2013 season, but they did themselves a big favor by hiring John Farrell. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester were both excellent pitchers in 2010 under Farrell's watch, and even John Lackey had a decent season. If Farrell can help get the three of them back where they were in 2010, the Red Sox are going to have a solid starting rotation.

Offensively, the Red Sox will be as solid as ever if they sign Swisher. If Ortiz and Ross also re-sign, the Red Sox will have an above-average core of hitters in Ellsbury, Pedroia, Swisher, Ortiz and Ross, and they'll also have a promising young third baseman in Will Middlebrooks and a powerful catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

If this is what the Red Sox are dealing with in 2013, then they won't be losing 93 games again. At worst, they'll be a .500 team. If Ben Cherington brings in some more talent this winter, the Red Sox will have a shot at 85 or even 90 wins.

It's too bad they play in a division where even 90 wins probably won't be good enough to lock down a playoff spot.

Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
Rest assured, this won't be the end of Derek Jeter. Because of that, the Yankees should be fine.

The Yankees had their season come to an embarrassing end, but they'll be back strong in 2013. It's always a good bet to mark them down for about 95 wins.

The Baltimore Orioles will be back as well. They're set to return many of the players who helped them make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years in 2012, and they can look forward to further contributions from young studs Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy.

The Tampa Bay Rays will be back too. Their pitching will be as good as ever, and they'll be a truly dangerous team if Evan Longoria manages to stay healthy for the entire 2013 season.

The Toronto Blue Jays will be tough as well. They have a very good core of hitters in Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Their starting rotation is going to be a mixed bag, but Brandon Morrow could be a legit Cy Young contender. Ricky Romero should bounce back from a horrendous 2012 season.

But you never know. The Orioles could come crashing back down the earth. Longoria could get hurt, and the injury bug may also attack Tampa Bay's pitching staff. The Blue Jays could get bit by the injury bug just as bad in 2013 as they were bitten in 2012. The Yankees have been avoiding Father Time's reach for a long time now, but he could finally catch up with them in 2013.

Signing Swisher won't make the Red Sox a great team by default. He would, however, be a productive member of a team that will have more than its fair share of talent. With luck on their side, the Red Sox could do some damage.

But what of the world beyond 2013?

 

How His Contract Would Impact Payroll and Future Spending

On Tuesday, I wrote a piece about how Josh Hamilton could impact the San Francisco Giants, and there was a lot to talk about when it came to this section of the article. The Giants would be taking on a massive financial commitment, and it would force them into altering their plans for the future in a significant way.

With Swisher and the Red Sox, not so much. There's actually not a lot to talk about here.

What the Red Sox are right now is a blank slate. With Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez out of the picture, the Red Sox don't have any players locked up beyond the 2015 season, and the only long-term extension candidates they have in-house are Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Signing Swisher would force the Red Sox to shuffle some papers and draw some new lines on their big board if they had a payroll that was already maxed out and filled with long-term commitments, but they don't. They're the one team in baseball that can commit $10-15 million per year to Swisher and not immediately freak out about what moves they'd have to make next in order to make it work.

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All the Red Sox would have to do is add his contract to the pile and then go about putting other contracts on top of it. They wouldn't have to worry about taking any out from underneath it or how many more contracts they could put on top of it before things got out of control.

This would not have been the case if the Red Sox had kept the three stars they sent to the Dodgers in August, as both Crawford and Gonzalez were signed long-term and Beckett was on the books for about $16 million per year for two more seasons. If the Red Sox had held on to them, signing Swisher would have been very complicated, and indeed quite reckless.

This doesn't mean that the Red Sox now have an excuse to be reckless, mind you, but signing Swisher wouldn't be anywhere near as reckless as signing Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, both of whom are likely to get annual salaries in excess of $20 million. Swisher won't get anywhere near $20 million per year.

If that's what he wants, and that's what it looks like he's going to get, that's when the Red Sox will be in danger of getting reckless. They won't touch Swisher is he remains steadfast in his desire to get a Jayson Werth contract.

If he lowers his price, the Red Sox should feel free to go for him. And if they sign him, they should apologize to nobody.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

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