Nick Swisher is finally working his way back to the Cleveland Indians a little more than a month after being placed on the disabled list with a knee injury. Whether or not he returns this season is no longer the big question as he has already made a rehab start with the Lake County Captains, and Terry Francona seems optimistic about his progress. The bigger question is what the hell will the Indians do with him when he does come back?
A favorite suggestion among irrational fans is to cut him or "just demote him," neither of which is an especially valid option. There is no way the Indians are going to part with Nick Swisher just like that – he is still owed $15 million next year and is still a fan favorite. No matter how battered his knees get, no matter how bad he looks at the plate and no matter how obnoxious his bro shades get, one fact remains: people love Nick Swisher. He is not going anywhere.
Therefore, when he does finally return from that nagging knee injury, the Indians are going to be faced with the issue of finding a place to put him on an already crowded roster. The good version of this problem is having a roster stuffed full of quality players, but the Indians kind of have the opposite problem. They have a slew of players on the cusp of maybe doing something good and/or making a ton of money to do nothing. So who do they move to make room?
Assuming the Indians make no trades between now and then, the easy answer is to demote one of the thousands of relievers currently on the 25-man roster such as Jeff Manship or Kyle Crockett. Doing so will leave the Tribe roster with six outfielders on the active roster: Swisher, Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Brandon Moss, David Murphy, and Ryan Raburn. Those first two will be paid a combined $28.5 million next season to likely be below replacement level.
Getting Swisher onto the roster is the easy part (at least if Francona will part with a reliever). The hard part will be figuring out what to do with him once he's on the roster.
- Let him warm the bench
- Shoehorn him into the DH spot occasionally.
If there was ever the slightest chance of him playing capable defense again this season, it is probably gone now, so his lone starting option will be taking at-bats away from other designated hitter candidates.
Before his latest DL stint, Swisher was hitting .198/.261/.297, with 2 home runs and a whole lot of ugly swings and disbelieving looks after strikeouts. It is hard to imagine anyone but Facebook super fans and little old ladies who love Swisher having any faith in him doing much better than that coming off more knee issues, but he is almost certainly still going to get a good chunk of playtime.