The Tribe’s $56-million question
As the Cleveland Indians continue to try and keep pace in the American League Central Division, manager Terry Francona faces an important question.
What to do about the Tribe’s $56-million man, Nick Swisher?
Since signing the largest free agent contract in franchise history prior to the 2013 season (more on that in a moment), Swisher has been average at best and pretty horrible at worst, considering that he has batted .225 or less in five of the nine months he has been a member of the team.
It has been even worse this year, as Swisher is currently batting just .200 on the season, with four home runs and 20 RBI. Compared to other first basemen in the American League, Swisher ranks:
- 14th in batting average;
- 13th in on-base percentage;
- 15th in slugging percentage; and,
- 15th in OPS
As bad as that is, Swisher has somehow found a new level of ineptitude this month as he is batting just .100 (2-for-20) since coming off the disabled list on June 12. And while it may be a small sample size, the Tribe actually played better while Swisher was injured, as they went 9-4 in his absence and trimmed four games off the division lead.
So what should Francona do?
The easy answer would be to simply bench Swisher; he’s not being productive (Sunday’s extra-inning home run now withstanding), so why play him?
Well, that takes us back to Swisher’s contract, which has been an albatross for the Tribe ever since they went overboard and signed the deal. The Indians owe the 33-year-old Swisher $15 million a year for the next three years, so sitting him probably is not an option.
The sad part is the Tribe has no one to blame but themselves for the deal. When Swisher was a free agent following the 2012 season he wanted to stay in New York with the Yankees. But the Yankees – who never let a player that they want to keep leave in free agency – wanted no part of Swisher, which should have been a sign for the Tribe.
But the Indians jumped right in with a big-money deal for an average player, selling fans and the media about how the team “had” to overpay Swisher to get him to come to Cleveland. No one seemed interested in asking exactly why the Indians “had” to have Swisher in the first place; they could have easily offered a market-value contract and not lost anything if Swisher walked away. (And let’s not even get started on the ridiculousness of someone who grew up near Columbus “coming home” to Cleveland.)
Instead, they chose to pay a player who is not a difference maker as if he is one, and now they are stuck with a player who very well may be in the beginning stages of his career decline. (While we know that baseball’s salary structure is not based in reality, there is something wrong with a franchise that once employed Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Robbie Alomar and Kenny Lofton having Swisher be their highest-paid player ever.)
It would be nice if Francona could turn Swisher into this year’s version of Jason Giambi and use him as a veteran bat off the bench, but that doesn’t seem likely. And there is no way they are going to be able to move him with that contract any time soon.
There is always the possibility that, if healthy, Swisher may be able to become a semi-productive member of the offense. Carlos Santana has struggled this year as well, but he has heated up since his own stay on the disabled list, batting .333 with an OPS of 1.035 since June 6. Maybe some of that will rub off on Swisher.
Francona may actually be the Tribe’s best hope in all of this. Since arriving in town he has been right more often than not in making moves to put his players in the right place at the right time. If Francona can continue his magic, he may be able to maximize what Swisher has while minimizing the considerable damage he has been doing to the lineup this season.
What to do about Swisher is a big question and one that will help the Tribe’s chances if Francona can get the answer right.
We just wish it was one that the team didn’t have to worry about.
(Photo by The Associated Press)
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