While there can be no questioning the decision to pick up Cano's incredibly modest $14 million option, and while the team dodged a bullet in the Sabathia negotiations in terms of both dollars and years, bringing back Nick Swisher could rank up there with one of the least sensible decisions of the past half decade or so.
The central question involved here is what picking up Swisher's option means. Is the move an indication that he is being penciled in as the everyday right fielder? Can we infer that the team wants some security in the event other options fizzle? Or, as is quite possible, is this simply the first chess piece to be moved by the Yankees' high command?
Swisher, the amiable everyday right fielder for the team over the past three seasons, is simply not the solution going forward. With the team's ability to maneuver limited by burdensome, long-term contracts at most positions, right field shapes up to be the one position where the Yankees could supplement in a big way.
Though he has overachieved during the regular season during his stay in New York, the reality is that Swisher's approach in the postseason has crippled the team at a number of critical junctures. If you ignore all other offensive statistics and concentrate solely on run production, Swisher's five RBI in 100 postseason at-bats with the team tells you all you need to know.
Brian Cashman, the Yankees' GM, is not exactly a small-brained kind of guy. He has made some poor decisions over the years, as all GM's will, but in the process of putting together very competitive teams he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to balance between the two identities that any Yankees GM can assume: the big-spending market buster, or the develop from within type.
As such, it is more than likely the case that Cashman is well aware of the fact that the Yankees offense needs to be supplemented if they are to truly contend for the title. There appear to be other voices in the organization (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/897874-yankees-brass-apparently-delusional-regarding-teams-offensive-capabilities) that have no sense of the team's needs, however Cashman typically prevails when it comes to deciding the strategic direction of the team.
It defies logic that Cashman, after watching many of the Yankees' big bats disappear yet again in the postseason, would be oblivious to the many holes in the Yankees' lineup. Among other question marks, Alex Rodriguez (injuries, age) and Mark Teixeira (performance) are massive wild cards for the team heading into the season. If Rodriguez cannot stay healthy, and if Teixeira continues to be virtually impotent from the left side of the plate, then the onus will be on Swisher to produce when it counts.
If this were three years ago, with Rodriguez at 34 and still a reliable commodity and Teixeira a sure thing offensively, the Yankees could perhaps afford to have Swisher in the six spot of the lineup. Remember, though, that during the 2009 championship run he batted after Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano in the order. By the time an opposing pitcher got to Swisher, the damage was typically already done. In other words, Swisher has never been the go-to guy for this Yankees team.
Heading into 2012, though, presuming the Yankees do not have a Plan A, Plan B includes Swisher in the sixth slot in the lineup. With Cano apparently the three-hole hitter going forward, this means that Swisher will more than likely be asked to protect Mark Teixeira. That's fine if the Yankees' goal is to make the playoffs and lose in the first round again, but not so fine If they aspire to greater heights.
The reality is that there are better solutions available to the Yankees than Swisher being the every day six-hole option. Some are prudent, others are bold, and others still shape up as very bold. Regardless of which way the Yankees go, however, Nick Swisher figures to be a central figure in the process.
The prudent approach would be to sign free agent Carlos Beltran, make him the every day DH and then either rest him or put him in RF when Rodriguez or Jeter need a half day off as the DH. This would mean the Yankees would be keeping Swisher, of course, but with Beltran in the sixth slot, the Yankee lineup is that much deeper and more potent.
As for the bold move, the development of Grady Sizemore becoming a free agent opens up an intriguing possibility for the Yankees to consider. While Sizemore's injury history is a concern, he is still younger than Swisher, and showed far more promise as a hitter prior to his string of injuries. His line of .281/27/81/.371 OBP/.495 SLG from 2005 through 2008 is a testament to his abilities when healthy, and he is perhaps worth the risk he represents if his injury history shortens the contract length he can demand.
Sizemore coming on board would possibly result in the need to remove Swisher from the equation. If things go this way, then the Yankees will certainly have an additional chip to use should they decide to pursue a second-tier starter.
The team, though, could decide to keep Swisher as either bench insurance or even as the everyday right fielder, which would move Sizemore into the regular DH role. This still leaves the DH role open for Rodriguez and Jeter, as Sizemore can be called upon for spot duty in right field.
Falling into the very bold category would be the pursuit of Matt Kemp via trade, which we've covered in greater detail in this space before ((http://bleacherreport.com/articles/878596-nick-swisher-4-possible-results-of-another-useless-postseason). It remains one of the best long-term solutions available to the Yankees, despite the cost in prospects going the other way, and it may very well be that the picking up of Swisher's option was a means to an end in several ways.
First, by having Swisher under a very reasonable contract, just over $10 million for this year alone, the Yankees are assured that in the worst case scenario they are buttoned up in right field at least until the July trade deadline.
Second, Swisher would be a very attractive, low-cost option for the cash-strapped Dodgers to consider as part of the package for Kemp. It would also somewhat diminish the need for the overall package to be filled out exclusively by youngsters, something the Yankees would more than likely prefer to avoid.
Whatever option the Yankees decide upon, whether from the three outlined above or others not discussed here, the Yankees will need to supplement their lineup. Pitching is a need, of course, but they can address both needs in the offseason without bankrupting the future in terms of talent.
Bringing Swisher back on board may be a sign that the Yankees are headed for a second consecutive offseason with little activity, but it could alternatively be the first salvo in a calculated distraction campaign being launched by the Yankees' front office. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be, of course, but it stands to reason that Nick Swisher might want to consider a nice rental property right about now.
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