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Swisher brings his swing to the Bronx

Slugger a good fit, even if the Yanks still manage to sign Teixeira
11/14/2008 5:56 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com

Even with the addition of Nick Swisher, Steven Goldman still thinks there is room for free agent Mark Teixeira in the Bronx. (AP)
THE EVENING AFTER THE MORNING AFTER
Having typed my fingers off earlier today, I haven't much to add to yesterday's Swisherpalooza, except for this: the move should be insurance against not getting Mark Teixeira. It should not be an excuse to not bid on him.

Last year, Major League first basemen hit .272/.353/.464. In 2007, they were roughly in the same spot at .276/.357/.463. Even before this year's disappointing season, Swisher was a career .244/.354/.451 hitter. At his 2006-2007 best, he hit .258/.377/.474. That's valuable. It's better than average. Spread across three outfield positions and first base, it's incredible, because some of those at-bats, no matter which team we're talking about, would have gone to some Justin Christian, Terrence Long type (remember when Joe Torre fell in love with him?). At first base, taken solely as first base production, it's just okay. Further, if the Yankees were to say, "Well, pardners, we're replacing Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu with Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady," you had better be prepared for a very long season.

Even if Swisher was the majority right fielder and another player was the full time first baseman, it would be a better combination, because at this time right fielders don't hit quite as well as first basemen, with rates of .277/.348/.450 over the last two years.

Again, Swisher is a good hitter in a normal year, but he's not a top-flight producer at any position. Mark Teixeira is, and he's a great glove on first to boot, something the Yankees haven't seen since Tino Martinez was in his prime, or Don Mattingly before him. It is said that the Yankees will now bail on Teixeira to go all in on CC Sabathia. Good for them. Sabathia will be a worthy acquisition if they pull it off. But I repeat (and repeat) this team's problems should be ranked as: defense, hitting, then pitching. Further, the Yankees' needs go beyond this one year. Teixeira is consistent and at 29 next spring should remain so for several more seasons. Sabathia is younger, not turning 28 until next July, but given his workload, frame, and conditioning, Teixeira is a better bet to be a productive Major Leaguer for longer.

In short: Sabathia is a very large target, but shouldn't be so large in the Yankees' view that he blocks out all vision of their one-stop, five- to seven-year solution at first base. That would be failing to see the forest for one very big tree. Nor should the Swisher deal enable them in this lack of vision. To pass on Teixeira, if they have the option of signing him, would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now, to close, I am not certain that the Yankees really have bagged on Teixeira. Brian Cashman was equivocal in yesterday's phone call, and I think he's smarter than to see Swisher as the singular solution at first. He continually emphasized the player's versatility, indicating his awareness that Swisher frees him to follow almost any deal that may present itself — perhaps one that rids the Yankees of an aged-corner outfielder or two. We shall see. At this stage, we don't know if it's the pundits slamming the door on Teixeira or the Yankees. For the Yankees' sake, I hope it's the former.

MORE FROM ME
Besides the aforementioned chat linked above, I have a profile on the late, great Preacher Roe up at BP in my latest You Could Look It Up entry.

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Thursday, November 13: Posted at 5:48 p.m. EST

SWISH NICKER, NICK SWISHER, WHATEVER YOU CALL HIM, HAS SWISHED TO THE YANKEES?
As first reported by Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com, the Yankees have acquired first baseman-outfielder Nick Swisher from the Chicago White Sox. The freight includes pitcher Jeff Marquez and... we don't know. Marquez, a 24-year-old righty sinkerballer, has yet to show a strikeout rate that would be sustainable in the Major Leagues. If he represents the complete package, then Brian Cashman just stole Kenny Williams blind. If not, we'll see what else just went away.

UPDATE: Just saw the official press release. The Yankees send away Marquez, Wilson Betemit and Jhonny Nunez, a 22-year-old righty the Yankees acquired from the Nationals for Alberto Gonzalez. You know about Betemit and his New York struggles and limitations. I still like him, but I'm stubborn. Nunez was a starter for most of his time in the Nats' system but moved to the bullpen at the end of the year. He did quite well, but righty relievers — even those with 91-94 mph fastballs — are fungible.

Finally, the Yankees also get righty Kanekoa "The Wrong" Texeira in the deal. The native Hawaiian was a 22nd-round pick in 2006. He's a bit short at an even 6'0", but his Minor League numbers are really nice — 144.1 innings, 149 strikeouts, 2.25 ERA based on a fastball-slider combination. I don't know much more than that — other than that he has closing experience and finished up at Double A. The raw numbers are good and more than make up for Nunez going away.

So, I don't repeat myself, here's what I wrote about Swisher in this space eight days ago:

Nick Swisher, a player I touted for the Yankees earlier this offseason, is reportedly available for trade . Swisher was pretty awful this year, going into a Ted Williams memorial deep freeze for the entire second half. Yet, he hit 24 home runs and walked 82 times. He can play all three outfield positions and first base. This is a player worth having. Players get hurt. We know that. The great danger is not that they get hurt but in the players who substitute for them. Unfortunately, benches are short and prospects are few, so the Swiss Army-style player, who can embody several substitutes in one and hits as well as a regular, means that your team's manager never has to be in the dumb, destitute position of playing Miguel Cairo at first base when the regular gets hurt — sorry, John Sterling, but that's how close pennant races are lost. Swisher, or Swish Nicker as I like to think of him, has been totally devalued by his slide, but he is completely undervalued. He should be a 160-game player with 40 games each at his four positions, or whatever distribution patches for slumps, injuries, and so on.

A week before that, I wrote:

As bad as Nick Swisher slumped in the second half — and it was severe at .191/.298/.427 — the Pale Hose probably would have been better off keeping faith with him in the playoffs. One wonders if the Sox will take offers on Swisher. If Mark Teixeira doesn't work out, and maybe even if he does, the Yankees could do worse than to have a patient switch-hitter (there is an assumed rebound in that statement) who plays first base and all three outfield positions. That's utility with a capital U. You can get that guy 500 at-bats while playing him somewhere different every day, using him to avoid your weakest replacement at all times. It's a winning strategy.

The Yankees have widened their offseason options considerably. They should still aim to sign Teixeira, but they now have a fallback position, both if they are unable to sign him and if they are but he spends any time out with an injury. If they do sign Teixeira, they can play Swisher in right field, which gives them the flexibility to either reduce Xavier Nady's role or deal him; they can play him at a different outfield position every day and rotate players through the designated hitter spot. They can trade Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui. They could use him in center field if Brett Gardner doesn't hit or they don't acquire someone else, though center is not Swisher's best position. Basically, Swisher makes a great many scenarios possible.

I have been asked by a half-dozen people now if I think that this move precludes a Mark Teixeira deal. I don't think so, but Brian Cashman is going to get on the phone to the press in just a few minutes and we'll let you know if anything contradicts that thought.

OFF THE MARK?
Brian Cashman didn't close the door completely, but the Yankees' acquisition of Nick Swisher may have taken them out of the running for prized first baseman Mark Teixeira.

Like Teixeira, Swisher is 28 years old (as of Nov. 25), a switch-hitter and an above-average defensive player, but that's where the comparisons end. While Teixeira is off a monster season with the Braves and Angels (.308/33/121, 102 runs scored) and slugged 44 homers with 144 RBIs in 2005, Swisher batted only .219 with 24 homers and 69 RBIs, and fell out of favor with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Swisher, though, has pop. He hit 35 homers with 95 RBIs in 2006, had an on-base percentage of .381 in '07, and hit 24 homers last season and was eighth in the AL with 82 walks despite the paltry average.

"We're excited with the addition of Nick Swisher," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We feel he has a ton of upside. He's a patient switch-hitter, adds versatility at a number of defensive positions, including first base and the outfield, and will be a positive presence inside the clubhouse."

Cashman is hopeful a fresh start will help him rediscover his stroke.

"We hope 2006 and '07 are more representative of Nick Swisher in '08," Cashman said. "It was a risk we were willing to take. Hopefully he goes home, like many players do when they come off of a year they're not necessarily proud of, and finds a way to fight through it and get back on top."

Swisher is in the third year of a five-year, $26 million contract with a club option for 2012, mild compared to the $20 million over 10 years Teixeira and agent Scott Boras will seek on the open market. Such big bucks will be put toward improving the Yankees' pitching rotation, starting with the courting of CC Sabathia.

"It's early in the winter and our main focus will be trying to improve our pitching staff, and that has not changed," Cashman said.

— Jon Lane

UPDATE: Cashman's conference call just concluded. For those wondering about the possibility of Teixeira still coming over, Cashman played things close to the vest. While emphasizing that Swisher's versatility was what made him attractive in the first place, he did say that "if the season started today [first base is] where he'd be, but the season doesn't start today," and that the Yankees will be "open minded to anything that presents itself as we move forward." Cashman emphasized that Swisher is, in his view, an above-average defender at either outfield corner position and first base but merely average in center, and the Yankees saw him as depth there, preferring a player with a "different profile" at the position.

I interpret this to mean that Teixeira is still an option, but Cashman couldn't say so without immediately provoking questions about which corner outfielder is heading out of town. We can also infer that he no longer feels like he has a gun to his head about Teixeira, and to the extent that that allows him to sleep easier at night, it's a good thing. My hope would be that the Yankees would still acquire Teixeira and allow Swisher to roam, and Cash's focus on versatility means he is aware of this possibility — he mentioned it both in the context of giving the manager flexibility in-season and giving the general manager flexibility now. Swisher's position is not a settled matter.

A brief note about trading Nunez and getting "The Wrong" Texeira: the former would have had to be protected in the Rule 5 draft, the latter does not, so Cashman just freed up roster space and got someone who seems to be a better pitcher. Call that a solid win.

Finally, a non-conference call note: If you look inside Swisher's stats, you will see that his line-drive rates were actually up from 2006 and 2007, but his batting average on balls in play dropped by 52 points from 2007 to 2008. In other words, he was still hitting balls hard, but they were caught at an abnormally high rate. We call this bad luck, maybe very bad luck. If he doesn't overreact by tying his swing into a pretzel, he's an extremely good candidate to rebound.

A RANDOM THOUGHT INSPIRED BY THE KEVIN GREGG TRADE (ANOTHER TRADE POSSIBILITY AFTER SWISHER)
With the Marlins dealing off arbitration-eligible players for little return, perhaps the Yankees could take a look at outfielder Jeremy Hermida. Hermida is, I think, a mess and could benefit from a change of scenery in order to reach what once seemed like great potential. Twenty-five years old in January, Hermida was a spectacularly patient hitter in the Minors with evolving power, a process he seemingly climaxed in 2005 with a .293/.457/.518 season in Double A. In the Majors, the Georgia native and former first-round pick has been inconsistent, with the power sort of coming on and the walks falling away. In 2007 he was actually quite good in spite of all that, hitting .296/.369/.501 in 123 games. Last season he dropped almost 50 points in batting average, leading to mediocre .249/.323/.406 rates.

In both seasons, Hermida was dramatically affected by his home park. For his career, he is a .248/.320/.404 hitter at home, .284/.363/.467 hitter on the road. In 2007, he batted .267/.333/.452 in Miami, .324/.401/.548 everywhere else. This year, he hit .288/.364/.487 on the road, .203/.273/.312(!) at home. This is a man who desperately needs a new home and some new tutoring — part of the problem seems to be that his swing has gotten long and whatever Marlins coaches are telling him, he's not hearing it.

I should add that Hermida got his first regular playing time under Joe Girardi. Whether that was a good or a bad thing, I cannot say. Assuming no bad blood there, if you're looking for a fellow who could solve the Yankees' right field problems for the next 10 years and is an acquisition highly likely to transform himself into the next Paul O'Neill, by which I mean not a "warrior," and certainly not as a defensive player, but a hitter whose production exceeds expectations at the moment of his acquisition, this is the guy.

MO, MOOSE, CLIFF LEE
Cliff Lee was a deserving Cy Young winner, so no racket to be made here, except to say that it was nice to see Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera get some appreciation from the voters. Rivera's season in particular was a real thing of beauty, a comeback of sorts after his rough start in 2007. Looked at through the window of wins added above replacement (I'm quoting Baseball Prospectus statistics again), Rivera was the most valuable reliever in the American League, the second-most valuable reliever in baseball (after Brad Lidge), and the 13th most valuable pitcher overall:

RANK
PITCHER
WINS ADDED
1Tim Lincecum8.6
2Johan Santana8.5
3Cliff Lee7.7
4Roy Halladay7.6
4Brad Lidge7.6
6Cole Hamels7.1
7Derek Lowe6.9
8Ryan Dempster6.8
9Brandon Webb6.5
10Jon Lester6.4
10Dan Haren6.4
12Ben Sheets6.3
12Mariano Rivera6.3
14Jake Peavy6.2
15John Danks6.1

By this same statistic, 2008 was the fourth-best season of Rivera's career, following 2004 (7.4 wins above replacement), 1996 (6.9), and nearly tied with 1998 (6.26 vs. 6.25). That's saying something given Rivera's age and just how many strong seasons he has in his catalogue.

MORE FROM ME
Still have that chat coming up at Baseball Prospectus on Friday at 1 p.m. EST. As always, the chat is open to everyone, and you can get your question in any time beforehand at the preceding link.

Since last time at wholesomereading.com : Speculation about the unemployed and their dependents, more on Prop 8, and some very nice discussion threads — join in! Warning! Politics!

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Wednesday, November 12: Posted at 5:24 p.m. EST

A CONGERIES OF RANDOMNESS ON A WINTER'S DAY
Or whatever season it is...

The Yankees have signed Damaso Marte to a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth season — haven't yet seen the bill. They now have the lefty specialist, who was part of their farm system before an annoyingly self-defeating trade for Enrique Wilson back in 2001, locked up through his age-37 season. One supposes that's a good thing; Marte has held lefties to .200/.297/.287 rates during his career. Righties have been more of a problem (.238/.326/.386), but if Marte is used correctly that shouldn't be a problem for as long as he is able to avoid the decay of age.

Being used correctly is really the crux of the matter for Marte. Joe Girardi pushed him at times last year, foremost in the 42-pitch outing at Texas on August 4. On the whole, Girardi did an excellent job with the bullpen after a rough start and a too-friendly embrace of Kyle Farnsworth. Yet, the way Girardi decided that Marte could be a long reliever seems to be just one of those leaps that he sometimes took — like the idea that everyone is always healthy and you can't ever admit that they're not, even when they're lying on the ground at your feet, soaking the carpet in blood — that are based not in reality but in some weird series of mental switches tripped by gremlins.

With the Pirates in 2008, Marte averaged 16.3 pitches per appearance. In 2007, it was 11.4. In 2007 it was 13.7. With the Yankees it was only an even 14, as Girardi alternated between very short and long outings. Of 25 appearances, 10 were of six or fewer pitches and five were of 25 or more. While the strategic value of stretching Marte so he can face two lefties separated by a group of righties is understood, Girardi's attempts to do this often backfired, having flown in the face of usage patterns that were 10 years old for the pitcher. Time to learn to trust your second lefty.

If Phil Coke is who he appeared to be at the end of the season (and isn't thrown back into starting), Girardi should have no problem clearing that particular mental hurdle.

Other stuff:

As sad as it is to see a team part ways with a long-time star, given the dark place the Padres are going, Trevor Hoffman has zero use for them for 2009. He's 41, clearly in decline with a very shaky 2008, and he won't have many games to save and won't sell tickets. He has all the utility of something you'd find at the Sharper Image — and they just went out of business.

Can't argue with the pick of Joe Maddon for Manager of the Year in the American League. I'm a bit more ambivalent about Lou Piniella over Charlie Manuel, or at least I was at first, but the more I think about it, the more I see Piniella trying to overcome injuries and disappointing seasons from an offense that wasn't anywhere as good as it appeared to be on paper. It was the best offense in the league, but it wasn't a great offense, if that makes sense. Manuel seems to have been the beneficiary of a bullpen coming together, not through his intervention, but in the magical way that bullpens sometimes do. In short, the first thing I look for in Manager of the Year candidates is not a fluke good year, which is all it usually takes to win the thing, but evidence that there was some cognitive activity going on, a real effort to grapple with problems.

MORE FROM ME
Still have that chat coming up at Baseball Prospectus on Friday at 1 PM EST. As always, the chat is open to all comers and you can get your question in any time beforehand at the preceding link. Since last time at wholesomereading.com : Palin as Yoda; Lincoln on Prop 8; the demise of Circuit City, and more. Everybody do the dance: Warning! Politics!

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Monday, November 10: Posted at 7:51 p.m. EST

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR AND OF ALL YEARS
As you no doubt know by now, Geo Soto, slugging catcher for the Cubs, and Evan Longoria, Rays third baseman and World Series absentee, take home the trophies. Both are completely deserving, and the only oddness about the vote is the one first-place NL ballot cast in favor of Joey Votto. Votto had a very nice year, one that in raw offensive terms was probably a hair better than Soto's. That's if you squint. Given the difference in positional value between a first baseman (common, unless you're talking about the Yankees) and a catcher (rare), and Soto's key role in the best regular season team in the NL, and the decision should be a pretty simple one.

If you were a Yankees fan in the 1980s and early 1990s it was easy to look enviously upon teams like the Dodgers and A's, who monopolized the Rookie of the Year award for years at a time: the Dodgers with Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax from 1979 to 1982, the A's with Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Walt Weiss from 1986 to 1988. The Dodgers then picked up again with Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth from 1992 to 1996. Meanwhile, between Thurman Munson in 1970 and Derek Jeter in 1996, the Yankees had had Dave Righetti, a token escapee from a farm system, in 1981. There would be no more escapees until Jeter — and there have been none since. Joba Chamberlain received one vote this year.

The reason for the paucity of prospects throughout the period was that the Yankees were too invested in winning to take the time to wait for youngsters to mature. Instead, they invested in free agents, thereby giving their draft picks away. Though they were able to win a great many regular season games this way, at least for awhile, the team was always incomplete. Without a fully functioning farm system, it is almost impossibly hard for a team to go all the way — there will always be something missing, because the free agent market rarely cooperates to a sufficient degree that all of a team's needs can be satisfied. In the Yankees' case, they were always short of a functional shortstop, a quality middle reliever or two, and at least one starting pitcher.

In the end, the great irony was that they neither won nor developed the young players who could help them win. At the time, Bill James characterized this as a treadmill which would eventually throw the Yankees. He was correct almost to the moment. The Yankees began to decline in 1987 and then fell off completely in 1989. It was at this point that they began to think fondly of the farm that they had for so long neglected, and began calling on players like Oscar Azocar, Deion Sanders, Hensley Meulens, and Kevin Maas to save them. They couldn't. Not only were potential stars absent, there weren't even potential regulars. As for pitching, the less said the better.

Today, the Yankees again have an ownership impatient to collect another trophy and the financial means to try and shortcut the process. They may even succeed in doing this, albeit temporarily. The 2008 draft, in which the Yankees signed neither a first nor second-round pick (first-round supplemental pick Jeremy Bleich was the team's sole signee among the first 74 players taken-he was 44th overall), has the makings of disaster written all over it. That's one year of star potential gone. The Yankees will now almost certainly give away one of their two first-round picks, number 26 overall, to sign a free agent. They would give away their other first-rounder, No. 31, but they can't because it's protected. That just means that lower round picks will vanish instead. That means you can likely count on another empty draft.

Now, free agents like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, who are both young and in the top five percent of players in the game, are almost certainly worth the penalty. Similarly, if a team needs just a piece or two to win a flag, then forfeiting a pick is worth it. It is when a team gives up a draft choice to sign a mediocre 32-year-old — and there are countless examples of this both in the history of Yankees signings and in the short history of free agency for all teams — that's where a team is giving up long-term value for negligible short-term gain.

The one qualification of the foregoing paragraph is the problem of the 2008 draft. What the Yankees clearly demonstrated, and have continued to demonstrate in recent years, is (and this should be obvious) that when a team has consecutive bad drafts, the effect on the farm system is disastrous. As in Major League free agency, you can't sign enough Jesus Monteros to float an entire system. You create a problem that perpetuates itself, with free agent signings and bad drafts leading to more free agent signings, leading to more bad drafts.

Eventually, as the Yankees did in the 1980s, you fall off the treadmill. Money will help cushion that blow — if collusion had not been taking place in the 1980s, the Yankees might have been able to hold off disaster for a few years longer by throwing millions at someone like Cal Ripken in 1987, but in the end it will happen — and we're entering an economic environment in which even the Yankees might not want to risk that many dollars on a dubious strategy.

The final irony here is that today, with good college programs, young players can come relatively quickly. Longoria played just 205 games in the minors and might have played fewer than that had the Rays not been worried about using up his pre-arbitration and free agency service time (Soto, a high school pick, naturally took longer). The Yankees don't have to learn to be impatient — they need only a tiny bit more of it.

MORE FROM ME
I'll be answering your questions (and dodging custard pies) in a Baseball Prospectus live chat on Friday at 1 PM EST. As always, the chat is open to all comers and you can get your question in any time beforehand at the preceding link.

Since last time at wholesomereading.com : Building the infrastructure of the future (your input requested); all-time veto leaders; another clarification on the New Deal; Superman at the White House; and World War 2.873. As always, Warning, Pilgrims! Politics!

CLICK HERE TO COMMENT

Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Blog appears daily on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are now available at Amazon.com. More Steve is available on YESNetwork.com in the Pinstriped Bible, and the Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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