Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 14, 2008
Excellent move by the Yankees to buy low and pick up Nick Swisher (don't be fooled by David Pinto's headline) coming off a terrible year in which he hit .219. Swisher's only 28, he can play 1B and RF and even play center in a pinch; he was an excellent player in 2006 and 2007, and he had productive stretches in 2008 (in 71 games from June 3 through August 26, he batted .262/.374/.545, averaging 41 HR, 91 walks, 116 Runs and 116 RBI per 162 games). It was really just his batting average that fell off, as his Isolated Power was essentially unchanged from 2007. Swisher will always struggle with his average, but basically he's a good player hitting .255, but not when hitting .220.
Pinto notes that Swisher particularly struggled on the road, so a change of park alone won't help him. It's certainly possible that he's just washed up young, as sometimes happens to young players with his skill set (the Yankees had a similar failed experiment with Morgan Ensberg, who's a couple years older, this season), but the odds favor a return to productivity, similar to Johnny Damon after his off-year at age 27. Swisher was probably miscast as a leadoff man, batting .210/.354/.324 in the role (by contrast, he actually hit better when playing center field than 1B, so you can't blame the strain of a tougher defensive position). My guess is that he's the kind of player who will particularly benefit from a lower-profile role down in the lineup, even on the bigger stage New York provides.
The Yankees got him fairly cheap (cheap enough that I'm left wondering why Omar Minaya didn't go after him, given the Mets' holes in the OF corners). Part of the reason, as usual, was money: Swisher "has three years left on a five-year, $26.75 million contract." Wilson Betemit has his uses but is pretty much your classic expendable utility infielder at this point, and has been used mostly as a first baseman of late. Jeff Marquez, a 24-year-old starter who posted a 3.65 ERA with just 5.45 K/9 in 2007 at AA and a 4.47 ERA with 4.47 K/9 mostly at AAA this season, would appear to be a marginal prospect at best. 23-year-old Jhonny Nunez has a career minor league ERA of 3.64 and has pitched just 27 innings above A ball, and so can't really be projected much; I don't know anything about him but his numbers, but my guess is that a guy his age with good K rates and spotty control will probably get converted to the bullpen. As Pinto discusses, Kanekoa Texeira, the reliever the Yankees got in return, seems a much better prospect than either of them; he "does exactly what a team wants; lots of strikeouts, few walks and a minuscule number of home runs."