For a team that went 24-53 in the second half of the 2012 season, the Indians aren't that bad. All they really need is Nick Swisher. If the Tribe signs him, they could do some damage in the AL Central.
The Indians think so too. Here's what ESPN's Buster Olney had to say on Monday:
The Indians are making a push in their effort to land Nick Swisher.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 17, 2012
According to Nick Camino of WTAM 1100 radio in Cleveland, the Indians will be hosting Swisher on Monday night. While that certainly doesn't mean that anything is imminent, it's a sign that the Indians are serious about bringing the veteran right fielder aboard.
This is precisely what the rumor mill has been suggesting for a while now. Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM reported last week after the big trade that the Indians were in "aggressive pursuit" of Swisher as a replacement for Shin-Soo Choo, and Bowden reported earlier this month that the Indians were hoping to sign Swisher to a four-year deal worth between $48 and $50 million.
Fair warning, Tribe fans: That may not be good enough. Bowden cautioned that Swisher could get as much as $60 million in a four-year deal, and it's all but certain he will now that Josh Hamilton has set the market with his deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
That kind of contract may be too rich for the Indians, and it's possible that Swisher has no real interest in signing with them to begin with. He may just be looking to use the Indians as leverage to land a rich contract from another team, such as the Seattle Mariners or the Texas Rangers.
If the Indians do find a way to make this happen, though, their need for an able replacement for Choo will have been filled as perfectly as it could have possibly been filled.
Swisher and Choo are actually very similar from an offensive perspective. Choo gets the nod for being a slightly better hitter, as he's compiled a .289 batting average and a .382 on-base percentage over the last four seasons, whereas Swisher has a .268 average and a .367 OBP over the last three seasons.
Where Swisher has an edge is in the power department. He has a .483 slugging percentage since 2009 to Choo's .458 slugging percentage since '09, and he's hit 126 more home runs than Choo throughout their respective careers.
Swisher managed to keep his OPS over .820 each year he was with the Yankees, and he doesn't have Yankee Stadium to thank for that. He had a higher OPS on the road than he did at home in three of the four seasons he played in the Bronx.
Swisher has played 36 games in his career at Progressive Field, compiling an .884 OPS that comes complete with a .504 slugging percentage. He boasts career OPS's over .800 against every AL Central team except for the Minnesota Twins, which should appeal to an Indians club that went 31-41 against division opponents in 2012.
The Indians will be getting more than just offensive production if they're able to lure Swisher to Cleveland. He's a decent defensive right fielder, and he would also be able to hold his own at first base if he needed to spell Mark Reynolds on occasion (or permanently).
Just as important is Swisher's personality. He has a winning attitude that would fit with what the Indians are hoping for with their clubhouse culture after hiring Terry Francona as their manager, and he has a reputation for being one of the most enthusiastic players in the game.
The Indians truly need qualities such as these after what happened in 2012 under Manny Acta. He seemed to lose the clubhouse in the second half, and Chris Perez (because it would be him) hinted pretty strongly that Acta was very much a part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
"Something needed to change," Perez said after Acta was fired late in the season, via MLB.com. "Just the personality, a different dynamic in the locker room. Something needed to be different."
Francona has a well-earned reputation as a players' manager, and his track record of success in Boston should command a lot more respect in Cleveland's clubhouse than it did in Boston's clubhouse toward the end of his tenure there.
Likewise, Swisher would come to the Indians as a winner of three division titles and one World Series during his days with the Yankees. He also played in the 2006 ALCS as a member of the Oakland A's.
Accomplishments such as these would make Swisher just another guy if he were to return to the Yankees. If he were to go to the Indians, however, he'd be a guy who's been there and done that. He could easily step into a leadership role that eluded him on the Yankees, which was and still is Derek Jeter's team.
To boot, Swisher would have a strong cast of characters to lead in Cleveland. Barring any more key trades, the Indians are set to have some quality talent at the right places.
Most importantly, they're strong up the middle. Carlos Santana is one of the game's top young catchers. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has been an All-Star in back-to-back years. Jason Kipnis has the goods to be one of the game's best second basemen, and he could come into his own in 2013 after getting his feet wet in 2012. Drew Stubbs has his flaws as a hitter, but he's a very good defensive center fielder and a weapon on the basepaths.
Elsewhere, Michael Brantley is a fine athlete who's going to look good in left field alongside Stubbs. Reynolds strikes out a ton, but he developed into a quality first baseman down the stretch with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, and he still has loads of power in his bat. It looks like the starting job at third base is going to go to Lonnie Chisenhall, a former top prospect.
Where things aren't so rosy is in regards to Cleveland's starting rotation, which...well, which still isn't so good. The Indians are going to be looking for bounceback years from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, and getting something out of Trevor Bauer in 2013 may not be so easy. Beyond the three of them, the Indians don't have much. Bringing in at least one veteran would be ideal.
However, poor starting pitching didn't kill the Indians in the first half of the 2012 season. They had to work around lousy performances from their starters on a consistent basis, but they were able to do it because their offense was respectable and their bullpen was lights out.
The Indians could have been an 85-win team in 2012 had they managed to carry over what they did in the first half into the second half. In that case, they would have been right in the thick of an AL Central race that went right down to the wire.
The over/under for wins that it will take to contend in the AL Central in 2013 should stay stuck at 85. The Detroit Tigers are still the class of the division, but the re-signing of Anibal Sanchez and the additions of Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez (who missed 2012 with an injury) may not make them drastically better in 2013. It's more accurate to say that they've stayed good rather than gotten better.
The same is true of the Chicago White Sox, who have stayed largely quiet since re-signing Jake Peavy early on in the offseason.
The Kansas City Royals have certainly gotten better thanks to their restructuring of their starting rotation, but they haven't exactly gone from being a 72-win team to being a 92-win team. They've pushed themselves into 85-win territory, but they'll need much to go right to do better than that.
The AL Central was the weakest division in the American League in 2012, and not much has changed throughout the course of the offseason. The Tigers are the favorites to win the division again, but they could be unseated if another team in the division gels like the A's and Orioles did in 2012.
The Indians will be a candidate to do so if they sign Swisher. They'll be adding a quality bat to a lineup that already has a couple quality bats in it, and Swisher could be the on-field and player-to-player extension of Francona's leadership. His talent could help the Indians compete, and his personality could make the rest of the club's players want to compete harder.
This may sound like a plot synopsis for Major League 3—which I assume is in production somewhere given the lack of fresh ideas in Hollywood—but let's not forget that the Indians have showed promise in each of the last two seasons. Let's also not pretend like the AL Central is the AL West or the AL East.
The notion that one player in Cleveland could make such a mighty difference really isn't that far-fetched.
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