Nick Swisher is in a unique place as a free agent. The soon-to-be 32-year-old first baseman/outfielder is hitting free agency for the first time in his career despite being a nine year pro and nearing the end of his prime.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a unique situation. Despite 20 straight losing seasons, the Pirates have many of the pieces in place for a playoff run, minus a few key elements, like more production out of their corner outfielders and from the right side of the plate.
Swisher has actually been a bargain during his career, making just $10.25 million this season, the highest salary of his career despite four straight seasons and six of the last seven with an OPS over .800. Swisher has been a model of offensive consistency throughout his career, hitting 20 home runs for eight straight years.
Swisher is likely going to want more than $10.25 million per season in what will be the last big contract of his career, but as he enters the 2013 season at age 32, he may be willing to take more dollars in place of additional years.
Jayson Werth was the same age and coming off seasons of similar production when the Washington Nationals ponied up seven years and $126 million to sign him. If that’s the kind of contract Swisher is looking for, then the Pirates, and most other teams, are going to pass. If there’s a team willing to give Swisher $126 million, then that’s the team that will get him, and that won’t be, and shouldn’t be, the Pirates.
But more realistically, Swisher will be looking for something in the 4-to-5 year range worth around $12 million per season.
Let’s assume the biggest contract offer Swisher receives is in the range of five years and $65 million dollars ($13 million per season). Is that a terrible contract?
We don’t know how Swisher will age, and this contract will take him until he is 37, but we do know that much of his value resides in his ability to get on base, and that is a skill that tends to maintain well as players age. Even at 37, if Swisher losses some of his power and his batting average dips slightly, he doesn’t have the inherent risk of becoming a complete albatross with his big contract.
Swisher’s on-base ability and switch-hitting is a perfect fit for the Pirates. Coming off two straight years of terrible production in the first two spots in the order, Swisher would provide valuable times on-base hitting in the two-hole for the Pirates ahead of Andrew McCutchen.
The Pirates would have to change their organizational philosophy regarding free agents, and Swisher would have to have faith in the developmental progress the Pirates have made the last two years in order for this to happen. But the fit is there, if the Pirates are willing to make the move.