Late last night the New York Yankees found themselves in a pickle when news broke that the Los Angeles Dodgers had signed outfielder Andre Ethier to a 5-year, $85 million extension. The dilemma the Yankees now face surrounds their ability to re-sign soon-to-be free agent right fielder Nick Swisher to a contract and still stay under the self-imposed $189 million payroll threshold in 2014.
Ethier. 30, is a very good ballplayer. He currently owns a career slash line of .291/.363/.481 with 119 home runs and 499 RBI over a 7-year career. He has only played in more than 150 games twice in his career, however, appearing in 153 in 2007 and 160 in 2009. Ethier has also appeared in two All-Star games, for whatever that is worth these days. He is also leading the National League in RBI at the current moment with 53 and has helped the Dodgers absorb some of the slack from missing Matt Kemp due to his hamstring injury.
Swisher, in comparison, is 31 years old and has appeared in more than 150 games every year of his career except for his first two seasons in 2004 and 2005. To be fair he was only called up at the end of 2004 so his rookie season, 2005, would be the only year he didn’t appear in at least 150 games. Swisher owns a career slash line of .253/.358/.466. In his 9-year career, Swisher has hit 194 home runs and driven in 617. Swisher, according to defensive metrics, is also a much better fielder than Ethier in the outfield.
Now, the Yankees are in a bind. Ethier basically pushed Nick Swisher outside of the Yankees range unless the Yankees want to re-sign Swisher and let Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson walk in 2014. In many ways, Swisher is a better all around player than Ethier. Gripe all you want about Swisher’s inability to hit the playoffs, it won’t matter when Swisher looks for a new contract. This is also probably the last time Swisher will be able to cash in with a fairly large contract meaning, at age 32, which he will be next season, he will go where the money is.
Finding a replacement for Nick Swisher is not going to be easy. There are not big prospects in the outfield above the Low-A level. The Yankees are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now. Perhaps that is a good thing. Maybe the Yankees can find someone to plug the gap for a year or two until a prospect like Mason Williams or Tyler Austin can come up. Maybe the Yankees find lightning in a bottle with a cast-off from another team like they did with pitchers like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon last season. Maybe the Yankees make a trade this season for someone to fill the left field vacancy left by Brett Gardner and his balky elbow that can transition to right after Gardner comes back and Swisher leaves via free agency.
There are tons of scenarios that can occur. The fact of the matter is the Yankees have a decision to make soon: whether or not they think they are better off with Swisher in right or Granderson in center. They can’t have both while re-signing Robinson Cano and stay under the $189 million threshold. Maybe the Yankees won’t stick to the $189 million limit. Who knows? Right now, it doesn’t look like Swisher will be returning next season thanks, in part, to Andre Ethier and the Dodgers.