Will Ethier’s contract affect Swisher’s winter?

The Yankees are already in a tough situation with respect to Swisher’s looming free agency, as Hal Steinbrenner’s directive for the team to get below the luxury tax threshold by the start of 2014 makes it difficult to see how the team could resign Swisher to a long term deal while leaving enough money to fill potential holes at second base, catcher, and centerfield as well, to say nothing of bringing in reinforcements for the starting rotation. Most of us have more or less assumed this is Swisher’s last season in the Bronx, but there was some hope that they might be able to find a way to work something out at a reasonable dollar amount. Ethier’s new contract likely puts that hope to bed.

First and foremost, one thing that stands out when examining the two players is how similar they are in productivity. Ethier is certainly off to a much better start to 2012 than Swisher is and is about 19 months younger than Swisher, but from 2009-2011 the two were more or less even in terms of their offensive productivity, while Swisher was probably a touch better than Ethier in the field. What’s more, he was certainly more durable than Ethier, playing in exactly 150 games in each of his three seasons with the Yankees, something Ethier has done just two times in his career, the most recent being the 2009 season. So if you believe in a contract “setting the market,” it would appear that Swisher is in line for a similar deal when he hits the market after this season.

That said, I don’t really believe in that concept for a couple of reasons. First, not all decision makers are created equally, and even if they were, that wouldn’t mean they necessarily view all potential acquisitions through the same prism. Ethier is both a popular player who’s been with the Dodgers his entire major league career and he has a reputation for being a “clutch” hitter, all things that potential substitutes wouldn’t have going for them that probably drove his value up in L.A. Secondly, there’s just no theoretical basis for the notion that the selling price of one asset should necessarily affect the price of a subsequent, similar, asset. Sure, it could affect what potential buyers think they might have to pay to acquire something later, but baseball free agency is a system that obviously entails a very limited number of potential buyers, and if anything you would think that whatever upward pressure Ethier’s deal has on the market for other corner outfielders would be at least partially offset by the fact that it presumably removes the Dodgers from bidding on those subsequent free agents.

More than that, this contract seems like a pretty clear overpay to me. Given Ethier’s problems with staying healthy and playing the outfield, and the fact that his career best wRC+ is the 133 mark he registered in 2008 (he’s got a 131 wRC+ so far this season), Ethier just doesn’t look like someone who’s worth $85 million to me, let alone someone who merits a potential nine figure investment. It’s hard to quantify the more intangible value Ethier has as a marketing tool for the new ownership group in Chavez Ravine, to be sure, but even if we allow that that inflated his value in this situation, it’s also true that that would not be the case for other free agents this winter.

All of that said, players and agents are generally pretty good at extracting top dollar from team’s with the ability to pay it for free agents they want, and if this deal proves nothing else, it’s that there’s still a lot of available money for teams to play with out there. That alone probably means that someone in need of some additional offense is likely to come along and make Swisher an offer above what the Yankees are willing to pay for him, so this comes pretty close to confirming what we already suspected: Nick Swisher is probably playing his last season as a Yankee.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

15 thoughts on “Will Ethier’s contract affect Swisher’s winter?

  1. Shane Spencer

    I can still play right field. on the cheap too!

    • Jacques

      But you're 40 years old

      • Shane Spencer

        its not the years honey, its the mileage

    • Chad Curtis

      i can play the other outfield corner, and i'll do it for 80% of whatever Spencer wants!

      • Unfortunately you won’t be allowed to be close enough to the kids in the bleachers to be able to stand in rightfield.

  2. jay_robertson

    So much for yesterday's pundit, who opined that so and so's (I know – I've already forgotten WHO) contract just reset the bar LOW for outfielders. Otoh, I'd say that signing (low) along with Ethier's (high) would go towards proving your assumption, that contract A doesn't always => contract B.

    That said, with Swisher's lack of post season success, along with whatever money he is due, he's likely gone. — I know — post season stats are worthless, but when talking sums of money over 50 mil – they still get looked at.

  3. williamjtasker

    Swisher has remade himself to a degree this season. He is less patient. A Nick Swisher without the .370 OBP isn't the same value proposition. Plus, he's had an amazing season at missing cutoff men this year. It's like, "Where the heck is your head, man!" Swisher won't make Ethier money because Ethier was overpaid by an average annual value of at least three million based on his best seasons. Swisher is gone. Might as well get used to losing his goofy face around here.

  4. David

    So, I finally found the article I've been looking for, re: Swisher as an above-average fielder. It was a New York Magazine article on defensive runs saved, here:
    http://nymag.com/news/sports/65493/index1.html

    Now, a couple of things — clearly the CW these days is that Swish is a "poor" fielder; but what does DRS measure? And why do the article numbers not match any numbers I've tried to find since then, re: Swisher? Was this whole article bunk?

  5. Jacques

    Cashman should offer him arbitration and let him walk like Carl Crawford. The fact that this season is his final year and not producing huge numbers due to inpatience at the plate may suggest his decline. Plus we need a better right fielder anyways

    • roadrider

      Plus we need a better right fielder anyways

      Fine. Where do you propose to get one?

      • Jacques

        I meant defense, sorry for confusion

  6. uyf1950

    Swisher's biggest problem is the Yankees stated intention to get to the Luxury Tax Threshold of $189MM for the 2014 season. That means the Yankees can simply not afford both Granderson and Swisher. I think the Yankees offer him arbitration and tender him an offer of between $12 and $13MM for year he turns it down and the Yankees get the draft choice of whichever team he does sign with. It's a win, win for the Yankees.

  7. Hugh

    For the first time it occurs to me that the Yankees may have played a very smart hand in making public their desire to get under the Luxury tax threshold in 2014. Now, all the fans see it coming and can rationalise the losing of some players potentially b/c of wage issues and look forward to seeing prospects rise and/or the losing of players we all like, like Swisher. And the players have time to rationalise their desire to stay here into a willingness to take a bit less money than they might possibly get on the open market.

    Looked at the right way, it's a win-win.

    • I don’t quite think it works that way, if only because fans/players aren’t particularly likely to care about the Steinbrenners’ desire to pocket those revenue sharing refunds once they start to feel that it’s adversely affecting them.

  8. lazlosother

    I like the Swish, but given his age against the dollars and years he will likely command I think the chances of seeing him in the Bronx are abut 0. So who replaces him? I'd be interested in seeing a post on possible replacements for him, maybe under the new RumorMill tab.

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