The Cleveland Indians traded Nick Swisher for essentially nothing and they come out looking like the winner on the deal. Let that sink in for a moment. In trading Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves for third baseman Chris Johnson, the Tribe freed up a lot of salary and ended a very strange era for a player that was at one point considered the "new face of the franchise" by many.
Swisher, an Ohio native, was visibly excited by the idea of coming to the Indians when the team announced his signing in January 2013. Sitting alongside a smiling Chris Antonetti, Swisher had periodic bursts of excitement and laughter when the Indians general manager was doting on his switch-hitting ability, passion, and everything he could bring to the city of the Cleveland and the Indians in general.
While the right fielder did his part off the field in generating a lot of fan excitement, on the field it just never clicked.
The Indians signed Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal, with the expectation that he would be a cornerstone in the outfield and a big part of the young and rebuilding offense. He was coming off one of his best seasons in the Majors playing for the New York Yankees where he was playing for his first shot at being a free agent. All told, Swisher played in 148 games in 2012 for New York, was worth 4.0 WAR and tallied a .272/.364/.473 slash line -- good for a 128 wRC+. His defense was never anything spectacular, even in his early years, but if he hit 20 home runs and get on base at a .360 or more clip, what’s not to love?
It is almost difficult to think back after two years of disastrous offense and injury woes that Swisher was good for the Indians, but he was not bad in his first year. He managed 22 home runs in 145 games with a respectable 113 wRC+ and a 2.2 WAR. Still not worth the money he was being paid, but considering just how bad things got in the forthcoming years, 2013 was not a terrible year for Swisher. The 2013 season was a great year for the Indians, with or without Swisher, because they managed to sneak into a Wild Card game with an exciting 10-game winning streak to top off the season.
Since then, however, things have gone downhill dramatically for Swisher and the Tribe. The Bro of Ohio still manages to draw fan support no matter how bad he played (if you do not believe me, just find some Twitter/Facebook reactions to the trade), but he played bad enough to be traded as a modified salary dump.
Swisher followed up his above average 2013 season with a well below average 2014. Playing on failing knees, the then 33-year-old played in only 97 games for the Tribe and did not look good in many of them. At the time, he posted career low totals for walk rate (9%), on-base percentage (.278) and slugging percentage (.331) in 97 games -- all low bars that would be set even lower in 2015.
At one point in 2014, Swisher believed his career could be over. In August of that year, Swisher had his medial meniscus arthroscopically repaired in both his knees, which is obviously bad news for an aging outfielder. Throughout the Indians missing the 2014 playoffs in the fall and the winter that followed, Swisher was mostly held up on his own sofa, with legs bandages and wondering if he would ever play again. Ever the optimist, Swisher did not let him get down too much in the end. As he himself said this past January while was finally beginning to come back from the injuries:
When you're going through those tough times, the love and passion for the game start to go away a little bit and you have to find something inside yourself to bring all that back. Whatever it was, I found it and I have it again and I could not be more happy for that.
Unfortunately, all the optimism and smiles in the world are not enough to overcome such serious injuries. Prior to Friday’s trade, Swisher has played in only 30 games for the Indians in 2015, where he has set new career lows for almost every stat imaginable. His walk rate (7.2%), ISO (.099), on-base percentage (.261) and more were all far cries from the type of output the Indians imagined when they agreed to pay him $14 million per season. With both his knees operated on, there was also no chance for Swisher to play in the outfield. Instead, he was relegated to the designated hitter position and wound up being the Indians worst offense player in the position where the most offense is expected to come from.
Swisher has spent most of the 2015 season on the disabled list or in the Minor Leagues. He was initially placed on the 15-day DL with sore knees and is slated to return to the Majors sometime later this month. Only now, instead of returning to an already-crowded Indians roster, he will be starting for the Braves.
It is exceptionally easy to point fingers at Swisher and call him a waste of money or any other pointlessly ill-natured names. It is easy to say that he sunk a lot of the Indians potential for the years that he was here due to his massive contract. But it remains true that Swisher did not ask to be injured or miss so much time away from the team on his injured knees. He loves the city of the Cleveland, he loves the team and if you look back at interviews he did he clearly knows he let everyone down. It is just hard for me to blame Swisher personally for being old and having an injury. If anything, blame Antonetti for paying an over 30-year-old outfielder $56 million dollars during a rebuild.
That is not to say I am not just as disappointed with Swisher as everyone else, but I do wish him well going forward. There were very few good times on the field during his time in Cleveland, but they still happened, and I genuinely think he did some good for casual Indians fans, at least in those first two years. More good will than he would have accomplished had he actually lived up to his contract value? Absolutely not, but at the very least it makes me want to not hate him as he moves on to Atlanta. Maybe it is all easier to stomach now that the Indians are not on the hook for his contract anymore. Or maybe researching all this reminded me of how fun that 2013 season was. Who knows?
So long, Swish.