As he explained yesterday, Brendan and I are debating whether signing free agent Nick Swisher is a good move for the Mariners. He started it off here with why Swisher fits well with the Mariners and today I’ll tackle the downside of signing Swisher.
Let's start with a little context. Nick Swisher is one of the better bats on the free agent market this winter, and the Yankees right fielder has been on Mariner fans's radar ever since Dave Cameron suggested signing Swisher in his off-season plan. Last Thursday, Mark Feinsand from Blogging Bombers further fanned the flames by reporting that the Mariners are one of the teams with “serious interest” in Swisher.
First of all, even if the team doesn’t end up inking Swisher, the rumors that suggest ownership is willing to spend money for an expensive talent is encouraging. I should also note that I’m not completely opposed to the Mariners making a move at Swisher. For some of the reasons Brendan mentioned earlier, he would make a nice addition: he fills a position of need, allows for more lineup flexibility, and provides offensive value to a team that desperately needs it. However, Nick Swisher is not a perfect match for the Mariners, and there are legitimate concerns about signing him that may make an alternative move the better choice.
The first drawback to signing Swisher long-term is his age. The Ohio native will turn thirty-two next week, not young for a player who will command a long-term deal. Projections about his possible contract length range from four to seven years, but let's assume it will be on the longer side of that timeframe. Signing a thirty-two year old to a six or seven year deal is risky, no matter how durable he has been. There's an old saying that goes something like 'durability is something a player has until he doesn’t'. So while Swisher is probably a better bet to stay healthy than Erik Bedard, or anyone else with a long history of injuries, no player is a ‘lock’ to stay healthy.
As players age, they become increasingly susceptible to injury, leading to longer and more frequent stints on the DL. Betting on a player to remain reasonably healthy through his age thirty-eight season carries risk, especially with Swisher’s body type in mind. Big, slugging types of players generally don’t age as smoothly, so Swisher’s decline in performance and health may come sooner or more suddenly than a typical big leaguer.
Second, there’s the cost of signing Swisher. Dave Cameron suggested 7 years, $100 million, and I think that’s probably a good estimate of what it will take to sign him. It’s going to take quite a bit to lure Swisher to Seattle, and the Safeco stigma* may remain, even with shorter fences.
*- Swisher would hardly be the first hitter to demand an over-market contract in exchange for hitting in Seattle's notoriously pitcher friendly yard.
While the M’s have space on their payroll for a $12-14 million AAV player, it wouldn’t leave them much room to make very many other significant moves, even if payroll increases this off season, as General Manager Jack Zduriencik believes it will. They would have enough remaining money to fill out the roster and possibly bolster the back end of the rotation, but they would presumably be limited to only cheap free agents.
The problem with this approach is that the M’s have more than one hole to fill. By spending big on Swisher, the team would not be able to upgrade other areas of need—like finding another shortstop and a top/middle of the rotation starter. The fact of the matter is that the Mariners are not close enough to contention to have one player push them into the playoff picture, and as long as that remains the case, spending excessively doesn't make sense. They would be better off waiting a few years until the core of the team develops more before splurging on an expensive free agent. In the meantime, they ought to use using whatever money is available to strengthen multiple positions without committing too much money to one player, or to future teams.
And if the M’s front office truly has its sights set on a corner outfielder, they could easily go after a less expensive option. I advocated for B.J. Upton or Cody Ross last week, as both are above average players and only slightly less valuable than Swisher. Signing either one would leave more payroll flexibility and at a discounted price, while still improving right field.