Friday, November 14, 2008

Yankees' First Move of the Offseason an Impressive One

The Yankees scored a major coup yesterday when they obtained first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher and minor league pitcher Kanekoa Texeira from the White Sox in exchange for utility infielder Wilson Betemit and minor league right-handers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. Despite a subpar 2008 in which he hit .219/.332/.410, Swisher is a proven run producer who isn’t afraid to work the count and take a walk. Prior to last season, the switch hitter had posted a robust .828 OPS in over 1,600 career at bats dating back to 2004.

Swisher’s real value to the Yankees, however, will be the flexibility he offers them. This is of huge importance given the muddled state of their lineup. First baseman Jason Giambi will almost certainly leave as a free agent this winter, with right fielder Bobby Abreu not far behind. And few people believe that Hideki Matsui, fresh off surgery on his gimpy knee, can still play left field on a regular basis. Enter Swisher, who is more than adequate anywhere in the outfield and Gold Glove caliber at first. If the season started tomorrow, Swisher would play first base while the outfield would feature Johnny Damon in left, Brett Gardner in center and Xavier Nady in right. Matsui would serve as the DH. Should the Yankees win the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, Swisher would shift to center, where he would represent a substantial offensive upgrade over Gardner.

Swisher’s contract is another plus for the Yankees. The fact that he’s signed through 2012 at a very affordable total of $31.3 million (including a $10.25 million club option for 2012) is vital as Matsui, Damon and Nady all have contracts that expire after next season. With Austin Jackson the organization’s only outfield prospect on the immediate horizon and a weak 2010 free agent class, Swisher’s presence could become even more crucial.
Although at first blush this deal appears like a salary dump for the White Sox, it’s far, far more than that. By replacing Swisher’s $5.3 million salary with the roughly $1.5 million Betemit will earn in 2009 in his second year of arbitration eligibility, Chicago would be freeing up almost $4 million. Add this to the millions White Sox GM Kenny Williams would save by trading away starter Javier Vazquez (who’s scheduled to earn $11.5 million in 2009), and the ChiSox would be in a great financial position to fill significant holes in their lineup either by trading for Angels’ third baseman Chone Figgins or signing free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. Williams’ recent moves are not without precedent. Think back to the winter of 2004-05 when Williams traded away slugger Carlos Lee and, much to the chagrin of fans on the South Side, received only Luis Vizcaino and Scott Podsednik in return. The consternation quickly turned to euphoria when Williams was then able to pick up A.J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi and Orlando Hernandez – all of whom played key roles when the White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Might lightning strike twice?

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