But that’s about to change.
Swisher is a free agent and rumors have been rampant that he’s seeking “Jayson Werth money," or at least something in the ballpark of that massive seven-year, $126M contract given out by the Nationals two years ago. At the very least, Swisher has to be thinking about the six-year, $95.95M contract snagged by Andre Ethier last spring.
Keeping Swisher, who has fallen out of favor with many Yankee fans, thanks to a .169 career postseason batting average and a 5-30 playoff performance in 2012, will require a lot of money and a lot of years.
With $297 million committed to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia through 2017, and with Robinson Cano due for a monstrous pay-day a year from now, the Yankees probably can’t afford to throw another mega-deal at another over-30 player like Swisher. Their budget constraints will also keep them from pursuing free agent Josh Hamilton or Ethier, who is rumored to be available via trade.
According to Baseball America, three of the Yankees’ top four prospects (Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin) are outfielders, but all are at least a year, probably two years, away from the majors.
With Swisher seemingly a goner, the Yankees will look to fill right field for the next season or two with productive, yet affordable players. The following are a few options they may consider.
Hunter’s name has been brought up a lot in recent days as a possible solution for the Yankees. The Angels have all but admitted they aren’t bringing him back and the 37-year-old, presumably, would prefer to play for another contender.
Hunter had a strong season in 2012, setting career highs in batting average (.313) and OBP (.365), but his numbers were severely inflated by a league-leading .398 BABIP.
If Hunter could supply the .765 OPS he achieved in 2011, while playing stellar defense in right, he wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Yankees. The question is whether he’ll be willing to accept a one-year deal, or whether he’ll be looking to match the two-year, $26 million pact that Carlos Beltran was given by the Cardinals last offseason. The latter may be a bit pricey, given Hunter’s age.
Last year, the Rockies signed the former Twin Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million contract. Now in full rebuild mode, Colorado may try to shed the remaining $21 million. Since he’d be mostly a salary dump, the Yankees would likely be able to acquire Cuddyer for mid-level prospects.
Though Cuddyer would be a downgrade both offensively and defensively from Swisher, he remains a quality player at age 33. He’s posted OPS’s of .805 and .806 the past two seasons, and like Swisher, he can play both right field and first base. Unlike Swisher, he’s been a highly able postseason performer, batting .338 for his career in 78 at bats.
For the past few seasons, Korean import Shin-Soo Choo has been one of the more well-rounded outfielders in the game, sporting excellent on-base skills, above-average power and speed and a cannon arm. The 30-year-old posted a line of .283/.373./.441 in 2012, while swiping 21 bases and knocking 16 home runs.
If the Indians decide to deal Choo prior to his final year before free agency, he’ll certainly be a hot commodity. Though he’d be a near-perfect fit for the Yankees, their offer would need to center around Williams, Austin, Heathcott or Gary Sanchez, and would likely need to include a young pitcher like Ivan Nova or David Phelps, as well. This could be too high a price to pay, as they’ll end up in the same situation with Choo that they’re in now with Swisher in a year’s time.
Despite driving in a career-best 104 runs in 2012, Hunter Pence had a career-worst year overall, setting low marks in batting average (.253), slugging percentage (.425) and wOBA (.323). The 29-year-old struggled mightily after being dealt to San Francisco in July, batting just .219/.287/.384 in 219 at bats.
With the Giants now looking to upgrade their corner outfield situation, possibly by pursuing Josh Hamilton or even Swisher, they may non-tender Pence to avoid paying the $11 or $12 million he’s likely to be awarded in arbitration for 2013, or they may trade him.
Whether it’s as a free agent, where he’s likely to get significantly less than Swisher will, or via trade, where he’d cost perhaps a quality bullpen arm and a decent prospect or two, Pence would represent a defensive upgrade in right for the Yankees. If he’s able to get back to his pre-2012 form, his .813 career OPS and his ability to play every day would be useful tools.
It’s been speculated for two years now that the Diamondbacks want to capitalize on the value of the 25-year-old Upton and his team-friendly contract, which runs through 2015. With four capable starting outfielders on their roster, they may finally make the move.
Though he struggled a bit in 2012 with a .785 OPS, his lowest as a regular, Upton’s youth and his rare five-tool talent will have teams lining up to bring him aboard. It’s likely that Upton will repeat and probably even surpass the near-superstar level he played at in 2011 (.289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs).
The Yankees, like every other team, could badly use a rising star in their lineup. But trading for Upton, if it’s even possible, would be a farm system-gutting exchange for New York. If they hope to stay below the $189M luxury tax threshold imposed by the new CBA in the future, the Yankees need to draw significant contributions from home-grown talents—talents they’d need to sacrifice in order to trade for a player of Upton’s caliber.
If the Diamondbacks decide to hold on to Upton, they may trade another one of their outfielders. Jason Kubel, who’s owed $7.5M for 2013 with a club option for the following year, is not half the player Upton is, but he’d be a lot less expensive prospect-wise.
In 2012, Kubel hit 30 home runs with a .506 slugging percentage. On the downside, the 125 games Kubel played in the outfield in 2012 were a career high. During his seven seasons with the Twins, he spent a good portion of his time at DH, and for good reason. His -46.0 career UZR is a red flag.
Still, Kubel’s lefty swing would be a good match for Yankee Stadium, and if paired with a strong defensive, righty-hitting backup, he could prove a solid addition.
If Brian Cashman is seeking more of a diamond in the rough solution, he may look to San Diego and their 30-year-old right fielder. Though he’s never been an offensive powerhouse (his .765 OPS in 2012 was a career-high), Venable can run (79 stolen bases over the past three seasons) and play average to above average defense. He’s been much better with the bat away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park, batting .276/.344/.455 on the road for his career, and .286/.365/.509 in 2012.
Though Venable won’t be a free agent until 2016, the Padres may be willing to deal him as he enters his arbitration years, since their home field is keeping him from reaching his full value.
In return, they could show interest in Eduardo Nunez if they believe he can be molded into a serviceable defender. The Padres got a pathetic .607 OPS from their shortstop position in 2012 and a .690 mark from second base. The 25-year-old Nunez would represent an upgrade at either.
Late-bloomer Ryan Ludwick rebounded in Cincinnati in 2012 after a year and a half of struggles in San Diego and Pittsburgh. At 34, he posted his best OPS since 2008 (.877), while belting 26 home runs. After opting out of his half of a mutual option with the Reds for 2013, Ludwick is a free agent whose price-tag will be reasonable given his age and his inconsistency over the past couple of seasons.
Ludwick could likely be snagged for a deal in the two-year, $20 million range. While that would be a lot to waste if he returns to his 2011 form, which was flat-out terrible (.237/.310/.363), the outfielder may be worth the risk if other options don’t pan out.
The Yankees love signing ex-Red Sox. While Cody Ross isn’t exactly a Fenway stalwart, he did have a good year in Boston in 2012, posting a line of .267/.326/.481 with 22 home runs. Ross and the Red Sox haven’t gotten anywhere on extension talks, and the 31-year-old, who earned only $3 million in 2012, could probably be had for a two-year deal at a reasonable rate.
Ross mashed lefties in 2012 for a 1.010 OPS. Unfortunately, he did most of his damage within the favorable confines of Fenway, OPS-ing just .684 on the road. While Ross has his merits, he shouldn’t be looked at by the Yankees as anything more than a platoon option.
After being dealt to New York last July, Ichiro batted .322/.340/.454 and seemed to be the only Yankee in the ALCS who wanted to be there after Derek Jeter went down. The Yankees could sign the future Hall-of-Famer to a one-year deal and hope that the Bronx scenery continues to remind him of his younger days.
It’s tempting to look at Ichiro’s 76 games as a Yankee and ignore his previous 250 in Seattle. It’s tempting, but also foolish. His OPS was just .642 as a Mariner in 2012 and .645 in 2011. At 39, Ichiro would make a great fourth outfielder for the Yankees, but to rely on him as a starter would be a mistake, especially since his skills are largely redundant with those of Brett Gardner who will start in either left or center.