Nick Swisher has had plenty of suitors this off-season, and with good reason. He’s a proven bat, a switch-hitter who would fit in just about any lineup and has been a consistent performer for the better part of a decade. He’s been linked most recently to the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, all of whom could use his bat in their lineups.
The one thing that all of those teams have in common is that they are all expected to be contenders next season. Even the Red Sox, coming off a horrific season in 2012, are expected to reload and shouldn’t be down for long.
Swisher is a good complementary piece that can fit into just about any team’s lineup, but is not enough of a star that he should be signed expecting to carry an offense. He’s not a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, but he is the type of hitter that can propel an average offense into a very good one.
This is the category the Pittsburgh Pirates fall into.
Over the past two decades of futility, the Pirates could have been made to seem like a good fit for any major free agent, as their roster was typically full of holes. But signing a player like Swisher onto many of those teams would have been a misuse of funds, as his abilities are not enough to overcome the offensive issues of many of the Pirates teams of the past.
This Pirates team, however, is different.
On this Pirates team, Swisher does not have to be a star. He does not have to be a leader. He does not have to be their best hitter. They already have Andrew McCutchen for all that.
They also have some effective complementary pieces in Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and up-and-comer Starling Marte. The Pirates are finally at a place where a piece like Swisher makes sense.
Of course, they will probably have to overpay to get him.
Swisher will likely not consider the Pirates among his top choices unless there is a significant financial advantage to their offer. Most predictions call for Swisher to get a fourth year, if not because he deserves it than because of the demand for him this winter. They also call for a contract between $12-14 million per year.
The Pirates don’t have the payroll flexibility to go much higher than $14 million, but they could go further in years.
The longer the contract, the more risk there is with any free agent, and with Swisher entering his age 32 season in 2013, the risk is even greater than with younger free agents. But a five-year deal, something that Swisher may not have yet been offered, would lock him up only through his age 36 season, when Swisher could still be productive. He likely won’t still be living up to the contract, but he could still be productive into his late 30′s.
Swisher has the one skill that tends to age well in any era – plate discipline. Even as his skills begin to diminish towards the end of a five year deal, causing his batting average to dip and his power to decline, he should still be able to maintain his ability to get on base. Even in his worst season (2008), Swisher posted a .332 on-base percentage, better than anything they are projected to get out of right field this season. Swisher won’t still be the player he is today in five years, but he should still be an employable major league outfielder.
If the Pirates want to make a move, and they need to do so badly, offering Swisher an additional year could be exactly what it takes to get it done, proving both to their fan base and to the rest of the baseball world that they are taking their opportunity to become competitive seriously.