By: T.J. Zuppe
What Went Down: The Cleveland Indians and free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher have come to terms on a four-year, $56-million dollar deal, a source confirmed to ESPN Cleveland. His contract reportedly features a vesting option on a fifth year. The New York Daily News was the first to report the two sides had agreed upon the deal and has been reported by several different outlets.
What It Means: The Tribe finally has landed a legitimate free-agent this off-season, after chasing several others only to be turned away. GM Chris Antonetti fills the hole that was created in right-field by the trade of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. The Indians are left with a lineup that is near complete, only lacking a full-time designated hitter in their starting-nine.
By The Numbers: Consistency was Swisher's middle name with the New York Yankees. In four season in the Bronx, Swisher averaged 26 homers and 87 RBI with a .268 average and .850 OPS. In 2012, Swisher hit .272 with 24 home runs and 93 runs driven in. Those concerned that his numbers may have been inflated by a friendly hitters park, Swisher actually boasted a better OPS on the road than at home (.841/ .831). His career batting average at Progressive Field is .304 and features an .884 career OPS at his new home park. There are no sure things in free-agency, but Swisher appears to be a solid calculated risk. Did they overpay for the 32-year old's services? Probably. Thus is the nature of the beast when dealing with free-agency in Cleveland. You want someone? You have to overpay.
Fixing the Lineup: Not only does Swisher fill the hole in right-field, he is a switch-hitter who has hit left-handed pitchers better in his career than righties. That is a much-needed changeup from a club last season that failed to hit south paws with any sort of regularity. With the addition of Swisher, the Tribe's starting lineup is starting to take on a much better look than last season in comparison. Here is a look at how the 2013 Indians lineup may look with additions and subtractions in bold.
2012 Lineup 2013 Lineup
Finding Some Power: Just looking at those starting nines in comparison, the biggest element that should jump out - in addition to adding some right-handed bats in the lineup - is the amount of power the Tribe has infused. Cleveland struggled to hit the ball out of the yard consistently last year. Carlos Santana paced the team with 18 bombs - 18?! With the addition of Swisher, Stubbs and Reynolds, the Wahoos have added some thump to their order. Yes, that does include the strike outs that usually accompany the power surge, but Cleveland was hardly in a position to turn down some added dingers. Not only will that include the homers but it also changes how opposing pitchers have to approach pitching to the Indians' lineup. Those adds should also help insulate younger players like Chisenhall and Kipnis. Both will not be asked to do as much as last season - which should conceivably allow them to flourish.
Giving Back to the Fan Base: Let's face it, the Indians front office needed to do something to get their fan base excited. They have been asked to remain patient for far too long. The philosophy needed to change. With the off-season the Tribe is having, Featherhead faithful finally have reason for optimism. It started with Terry Francona, it continued with landing Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs and pushed forward with the signing of Swisher. It is not a finished product, but it is a helluva start on changing the stale culture. It may even make the team more attractive in any future team sale - something I have heard may be a big reason for the Dolans seeking a splash this off-season.
What Now? Antonetti still has a void at his DH slot - and despite his beliefs that Francona could use the spot as a place to rest his regulars - someone needs to man the slot full-time. But more importantly, the Indians could use another arm and are still searching the free-agent and trade market to find one. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a club seeking bull-pen help, and with several starting arms to spare, may become a place Antonetti focuses his attention and uses closer Chris Perez as bait.
Bottom Line: An off-season that started with the hiring of Terry Francona has culminated into one of the best any team has had around baseball. Swisher is by no means a perfect player at 32-years old but his energy, effort - and most importantly - production will be an excellent fit for Cleveland's young club. And while I do believe in advanced metrics, I also believe more goes into the game than can be read in a boxscore.
So What Do You Think: What does the signing of Swisher do for your perception of the Dolans? Do you like his addition? Will you be more inclined to buy tickets and get excited about your Tribe? Let us know by commenting below and sharing your opinion.
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