When the Boston Red Sox agreed to terms with Mike Napoli on a contract, their chances of signing Nick Swisher dropped ever so slightly. When they then agreed to terms with Shane Victorino, their chances of signing Swisher all but vanished.
But it's funny how things work out. Suddenly, circumstances have changed in such a way that Swisher must now be considered a blip on Boston's radar once again.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the plan was for the Red Sox to formally introduce Napoli in a Tuesday news conference, but that the event was called off. He has since learned that the deal isn't off, but that the two sides are working through some "issues."
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com got out his junior detective kit and put a more detailed rundown of the situation together. He notes that there were rumblings about Napoli's legs being loaded with medical red flags, and that it could be that health concerns are delaying the finalization of Napoli's contract.
None of this means that the deal is doomed, mind you. It was just a couple of years ago that the Red Sox took nearly two months to finalize a contract with J.D. Drew due to concerns over his shoulder, and John Lackey also had to have his initial contract altered due to health concerns.
Because this stuff can happen and does happen, there's little reason for Red Sox fans (the ones who want Napoli, anyway) to panic about Napoli's pact with the team potentially falling apart. As Ken Rosenthal noted on Twitter, it's a stretch to even say that his deal is in "jeopardy."
But what the heck. Let's go ahead an entertain a hypothetical anyway. If Napoli's deal does fall apart due to health concerns, the Red Sox are going to have to break out the folder labeled "Plan B."
If so, the primary subject of Plan B might just be Swisher.
According to Rob Bradford, the Red Sox have remained in contact with Swisher's people throughout the offseason, even after the club agreed to sign Napoli and Victorino to contracts that satisfied both areas of need that Swisher could have filled. If Napoli's deal falls through, though, the Red Sox will have a wide-open hole at first base.
Swisher could fit there. He's a right fielder by trade, but he's coming off a season in which he played 41 games and logged 259 innings at first base. He played well there, too, posting a plus-five DRS and a 4.7 UZR/150 (see FanGraphs). He'd be a significant defensive upgrade over Napoli, who has traditionally struggled to hold his own at first base.
Fellow free-agent Adam LaRoche would provide an even bigger defensive upgrade, as he just won a Gold Glove and has a track record of being a very capable glove man. He'd also provide plenty of pop, as he just hit a career-high 33 homers last season and has hit at least 20 homers seven times.
However, if Boston's signings of Napoli, Victorino and Jonny Gomes (who can play left and right field) are any indication, GM Ben Cherington's goal for the offseason seems to be providing John Farrell with mix-and-matchable players. All versatile players appear to be welcome.
LaRoche is strictly a first baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter. Swisher, on the other hand, can play right field and first base and his ambidextrous bat can be placed pretty much anywhere. For his career, the only lineup spot in which he hasn't accumulated an OPS over .800 is the leadoff spot.
There's no question whatsoever that Swisher fits Boston's needs more than LaRoche if the club is indeed looking for players it can move around both on the field and in its lineup. For that matter, he offers more versatility than Napoli as well.
Swisher has other things going for him that should strike the Red Sox's fancy. He's hit at least 20 home runs every year since 2005, and he's only had one sub-.820 OPS in the last seven seasons. He's also battle-tested in the AL East, and he owns an .899 OPS in his career at Fenway Park.
The only real downside of the idea of going from Napoli to Swisher is that the Red Sox wouldn't be able to take the contract they've outlined for Napoli and just hand it over. As Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM recently pointed out, it's going to take more than three years and $39 million to land Swisher:
Indians hoping to sign Nick Swisher for 4yrs $48-$50m...but market shift has him looking for 4yrs $60m— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 7, 2012
Such a deal wouldn't be the equivalent of the Jayson Werth money Swisher was said to be seeking, but a $15 million per year average would be a nice raise over the $10.25 million he made in 2012.
But the Red Sox can afford to pay Swisher his market value. Even with Napoli's contract factored in, they still have less than $100 million in salaries committed for 2013. And though a four-year contract is longer than anything they've given out so far this winter, it would be worth it for them to gamble on Swisher by providing good value throughout the length of the deal.
Swisher is more than just a consistently productive player, he's also a durable one who's played in at least 148 games in every year since 2006. He doesn't have a laundry list of past injuries like Napoli does. LaRoche has been relatively healthy throughout his career, but he missed the bulk of 2011 with a major injury and he's a year older than Swisher.
The Red Sox would thus not be going against their desire to be more disciplined with their personnel transactions if they were to sign Swisher to a four-year deal. In fact, a four-year deal for him sounds considerably more rational than a three-year deal for Napoli, especially with what's going on now.
It bears repeating that we're talking about a strictly hypothetical scenario here, as the Red Sox potentially making a run at Swisher is entirely contingent on Napoli's deal falling apart. It could also happen if the Red Sox trade Jacoby Ellsbury, thus opening up a chance for Victorino to play center field and a hole in right field for Swisher to fill.
From the sound of things, neither scenario is likely to come to fruition. The delay in making Napoli's deal official could be just so the Red Sox can alter his contract rather than tear it up, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has said that an Ellsbury trade is "very unlikely."
But if the Red Sox are forced to turn to Plan B, I'd anticipate hearing more Swisher-to-Boston rumors than you're already hearing, and the smart money would be on something getting done.
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