When the Indians signed Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal on January 3, it was definitely an exciting time to be a Tribe fan. While Swisher is not Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, he was a highly coveted free agent, being linked to the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners at times this offseason.
Swisher is not an "elite talent," as he has appeared in one All-Star game and managed a 17.1 WAR in just over eight seasons. Considering that a 2.0 WAR is considered the line between a starter and a reserve, one can wonder at just how valuable his signing actually was, as he's averaged about a 2.14 WAR over eight-plus seasons.
Stat geekery aside, Swisher is an improvement and, if nothing more, a indication to fans from ownership that money can be spent for the right type of talent.
Swisher's signing brings a solid .828 career OPS to the middle of the Indians' order. He has averaged about 26 home runs, 31 doubles and 83 RBI over the last eight seasons, while posting a solid .361 career on-base percentage.
Who benefits the most, besides Swisher and his agent, from this signing, though?
The fans put up with a lousy team and a terrible collapse the last two seasons. Ownership did not seem to have any ambitions to upgrade the roster prior to the 2012 season, eventually settling on Johnny Damon as an "upgrade" after the season had already begun.
Swisher is a product of the Ohio State University, so he has some local ties, which will immediately make him a beloved figure in Cleveland. The fact that he was willing to sign with Cleveland is just icing on the cake for fans.
The Pitching Staff
Shin-Soo Choo may have been a finalist for an American League Gold Glove, but the voters are about as clueless as many who vote for the Hall of Fame. Choo's defensive metrics were absolutely brutal, as he cost the team runs based on zone-fielding stats with his -15 Rtot.
While fielding statistics are subject to the type of pitchers and quality of pitchers who are taking the mound, Choo's range factor was also questionable—league-average at best.
Swisher was able to provide a 1 Rtot in 2012 for the Yankees in right field, so while he didn't save a large number of runs, he did not cost the club any, either.
The pitching staff could very well benefit from the "defensive upgrade" that Swisher brings. Choo provided a dynamite arm (44 assists from right field in 5,067 innings to Swisher's 33 in 5,842), but the added run support, whether by potential zone-fielding upgrades or Swisher's ability to switch-hit and not get completely shut down against left-handers, will definitely help out the pitching staff.
Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds
Santana is also a switch-hitter who will be present in the middle of the order, likely right behind Swisher. Santana could learn a lot from Swisher's experience and character, as he will likely become the face of the franchise, along with the newly-signed right fielder, being that the is signed through 2017 (including his option).
After a huge second half of the 2012 season, Santana will likely be the recipient of quite a few fastballs, and if opposing pitchers decide to avoid both Swisher and Santana, then...
Mark Reynolds will have a HUGE season. For a guy who can mash and strike out and not much more, Reynolds could absolutely feast on a bunch of fastballs in 2013 if he hits No. 6 in the Tribe order behind Swisher and Santana. For a guy with 181 home runs in six seasons, you could be looking at the steal of the offseason at one year and $6 million.
If the Indians hadn't signed Nick Swisher, the likely candidate to start in right field was Ezequiel Carrera. That is absolutely gross. While Carrera, along with Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs, would have allowed the Tribe to field a fantastic defensive outfield, he just does not provide enough with the bat to be considered an everyday player.
Terry Francona not only received a gigantic upgrade over Carrera, but the surprising signing could help elevate the Indians into contenders in a division that was won by a Detroit Tigers team with 88 wins in 2012. If the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics can do it, why not the Tribe?