Swisher is easily the most likable Yankee in years, maybe since Bernie Williams. He plays with an enthusiasm that rivals the kids currently taking part in the Little League World Series, yet he takes great pride in his game and makes every effort to improve himself daily. He’s an incredible clubhouse presence who gave life to the lifeless Yankees when he was traded to the Bronx after the failed 2008 campaign.
Swisher has also been one of our best hitters and is also incredibly consistent at the dish, averaging 27 home runs, 85 RBI’s and a .267/.368/.486/.854 slash line. He may not be Willie Mays in the outfield, but he’s made his fair share of spectacular plays over the years. And easily the best aspect of Nick Swisher is his adoration of Yankees fans, especially the Bleacher Creatures. How can a player so wildly popular possibly be shipped away when he hits free agency after the season? In my honest opinion, the first person I want to sign a Yankees contract this offseason is Nick Swisher.
We’ll start with what matters most, Swisher’s on field production. Find a six hitter who consistently clobbers more home runs per season than most teams’ three hitter, and got on base at a clip north of .370 in two of his last three full seasons. The findings of that search will be very limited for sure. For the role he’s asked to play in the Yankees lineup, he’s done nothing but overachieve to the point where Swisher is expected to drive a run in and get on base two or three times each night.
In his All-Star season of 2010, he set career highs in hits (163), triples (3), batting average (.288), slugging percentage (.511) and OPS (.870) among other categories. He worked 97 walks in 2009 and 95 walks in 2011. This season is poised to be his third straight season with a batting average of .260 or higher and an on base percentage over .340 as well. He’s lost a few weeks worth of games this season with various minor injuries, but he will still threaten his career high of 35 doubles.
And hey, did anyone else watch him murder Rangers pitchers this week? Two home runs and nine RBI’s in a series that could very well become this year’s ALCS was hopefully a glance into the crystal ball, as one of the few knocks on him has been his lack of playoff production. How well he plays in the postseason will be a big issue when it comes to contract negotiations, and I know I’ll be his biggest fan in October. But if the Yankees do let Swisher walk in the offseason, who will be manning right field in 2013 and would they actually represent an upgrade?
When it comes to finding a replacement internally, there’s no one anywhere near ready to step in and even come close to replicating what Nick Swisher has given the Yankees. Top prospects like Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin are still years away while Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte aren’t expected to produce big numbers in the immediate future, so the minors will not produce an effective answer in 2013. Re-signing either Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones could work as a stopgap until one of the prospects are ready or a major league talent hits free agency after 2013, but with Ibanez’ age and Jones’ prolonged 2012 slump, it would be asking too much to expect solid outputs from either of them. This leaves just an offseason move come November, and the big name floated around by fans and writers alike has been Arizona’s young outfielder Justin Upton.
J-Up is one of my favorite non-Yankees players in the league. Love everything about the guy. He’s as close to a five tool player as you can get. In 2011, he clubbed 31 home runs, hit .289, got on base at a .369 clip and stole 21 bases all while playing serviceable defense. What is music to the ears of many people is that Upton is signed through 2015, even though he’ll be making a somewhat steep $14 million in 2014 and 2015. But three things turn me off about Upton, making me sway in Swisher’s favor. First, he’s having a very off year by his standard. His 2012 season is panning out to be his worst since he became a full time player. His .272/.358/.402/.760 slash line is closer to his previous worst slash line of .273/.356/.442/.799 back in 2010, and overall his numbers have been up and down each season since 2008. He’s experienced a major power outage this year, hitting only nine home runs all season and driving in just 46 runs. Since June 24th (44 games), Upton has only hit two home runs and driven in 16 runs, and he’ll finish far off his career highs for both categories (31 and 88 respectively). While his potential is through the roof, he’s far from consistent, Swisher’s best attribute.
Upton is also nowhere near as durable as Swisher is. He’s played over 138 games in a season just one time while Swisher has appeared in exactly 150 games in all three seasons in Pinstripes. For a player to fully realize his potential, he needs to be on the field, and that’s something that Upton has struggled with. He’s hit the DL twice in his career for oblique injuries. Maybe it’s just me, but I like present production over future potential 99 times out of 100.
That one time out of 100 is when it comes to “gutting the farm system” type trades, and that’s what a deal for Upton would have to be. I like where our minor league system is right now, and I feel like prospects such as Williams, Austin, Heathcott, Ty Hensley and Gary Sanchez can very well become solid Bronx Bombers in the near future. Surrendering one or two for a frontline pitcher is fine by me, but swapping half the farm system for the inconsistent, underachieving brother of the even bigger underachiever that is B.J. Upton? I’ll pass.
Getting back to Swisher, I feel as if he’s one of the most underrated Yankees of the last decade or two. He’s so much more likable than previous stone faced right fielders such as Bobby Abreu and Gary Sheffield and he’s one of the most consistently solid corner outfielders in the game today. But that smile, silly snicker and salute to the Section 203 is what makes him a unique and loveable part of the Yankees family. I just hope the front office doesn’t kick Swish out of the nest, forcing him to fly away.