An unintended consequence of Melky Cabrera’s 50 game suspension has been an uptick in the amount of conversation about what Nick Swisher is going to get as a free agent this winter. Swisher has been elevated in the free agent outfielder ranks, and is probably #2 behind Josh Hamilton on the list of interesting OF bats that will be looking for new deals this winter.
So, this newfound interest in Swisher’s value led to a column from Jon Heyman, in which he discusses this very topic.
Word going around is, Nick Swisher, the Yankees’ eternally upbeat rightfield power supply, may seek a “Jayson Werth contract” when he hits free agency at the end of the year.
To baseball fans, that is well-known to mean $126 million over seven years. In other words, it’s a lot more money than most folks have guessed so far for Swish.
Second-hand or not, some Yankees people have heard that’s the figure Swisher is thinking about and may at least shoot for, and one other source who’s spoken to Swisher said that, indeed, Swisher has shown real interest in Werth’s deal. It’s believed the two sides have had no extension talks yet, as it is team policy to wait for free agency, except in rare cases.
While the $126-million figure is two to three times more than most of the estimates for Swisher, free agency brings some surprises. The Werth deal, for instance.
Werth was headed into his age 32 season when he hit free agency, just as Swisher will be, so there’s some value to the comparison. However, beyond just age and position, they aren’t really that much alike. Using the Custom Leaderboard and the age filters, we can isolate the age 29-31 seasons for both players, which are the three years they had leading up to their trip into free agency.
The advantage in any single area isn’t huge, but Werth just beats him across the board. He hit a little better, walked a little more, had a little more power, was a better baserunner, and produced more value in the field while occasionally playing some center field as well. In the three years leading up to free agency, Werth posted WARs of +5.2, +5.0, and +5.3. Swisher has never posted a +5 WAR season, and he’s not going to this year either.
So, no, Nick Swisher is not going to get the Jayson Werth contract. He’s simply not as good as Jayson Werth was, and that contract is generally seen as a mistake anyway, so using it as fair market value for an outfielder is probably not realistic. If Swisher has his heart set on 7/126, he’s going to come away disappointed.
However, there is another recently signed outfield contract that Swisher can aim for, and is far more realistic – the one the Dodgers just gave Andre Ethier. Here’s Swisher’s last three years compared to Ethier’s last three years.
Now this is a comparison Swisher can win. Their offensive numbers are pretty similar, with Swisher having a slight power edge over Ethier, and he grades out as a significantly better defender, though their reputations probably don’t line up with the defensive metrics. Still, Swisher can point out that he’s at least Ethier’s equal, and perhaps a little bit better, depending on whether you give him extra credit for playing in the AL, how you evaluate his defense, and how much extra credit he should get for durability. Working against him is the fact that Ethier is one year younger, but overall, most of these minor adjustments should come close to canceling out.
So, the contract Swisher needs to be pointing to isn’t Werth’s 7/126, but instead Ethier’s 5/85, and then he can argue from there that he should get a premium because Ethier’s deal was signed in-season rather than in free agency. Even though he was only a few months away from free agency, he still divested some personal risk by signing early, and presumably took a little bit of a discount in order to be rid of the injury/performance risk over the final three months of the season.
That probably leaves Swisher angling for 6/100 but seeing offers more in the 5/90 range. And, given what k +3 win players in their early-30s have been going for in free agency as of late, that sounds just about right. If the bidding gets intense, Swisher might be able to crack $100 million, especially if he goes for maximizing years over AAV. If that nine digit mark is really important to him, I could potentially see him landing a 7/100 deal, where a team agreed to tack on an extra year or two at fairly low marginal cost just to get him signed.
While none of us saw Jayson Werth getting 7/126 either, the reality is that Werth was a better player than Swisher is now, and even factoring in inflation, there’s not much of a reason for any team to pay Nick Swisher that kind of money. He’s a good player, a guy who can help you win, but he’s also an aging corner outfielder without elite offensive skills. Unless the market just goes bananas again, I don’t see Swisher getting anywhere close to Werth’s deal.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.