12:43 pm Aug. 27, 2012
The New York Yankees solidified their hold on the American League East this past weekend, and Nick Swisher was a big reason why.
Swisher had a pair of three-hit games, each one coming in a Yankee win, as the lead over Tampa Bay increased from 2.5 to four games.
The production is nothing new for Swisher. He's been astonishingly consistent in his four years with the Yankees. This season, his O.P.S.+ is 126; it was 122, 129 and 119 in three seasons from 2009-2011.
But the Yankees face the kind of question with Swisher this winter they haven't needed to think much about in past years. Swisher, 31, will be a free agent. The team lacks the kind of corner outfield options that would make Swisher expendable. So this being the Yankees, Swisher will return, right?
The answer is ... it's complicated. The team has publicly vowed to get its current payroll, at $207.2 million in 2012, down to no more than $189 million by 2014, in order to avoid significant luxury tax penalties.
And the team has already committed $73.3 million to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia in 2014. Based on his stellar 2012, the Yankees look like they'll probably exercise their $8 million option on Derek Jeter. And Robinson Cano will be a free agent after 2013; his extension with the Yankees will almost certainly pay him north of $20 million per season.
That gets the Yankees over $100 million for just five players, and doesn't take into account things like retaining Curtis Granderson, filling out a starting rotation, let alone signing Swisher.
For his part, Swisher appears to be looking for a deal comparable to Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals. Fortunately for Swisher, he is hitting the market at a similar time to Werth; few other corner outfield options are available. Baseball has a funny way of rewarding the best players on the market with elite contracts, if elite players are not available to receive them. Swisher will be available during one of the worst free agent crops in memory, turning a good player into a likely overpaid one.
But can the Yankees really enter 2013 with an offense built around Cano, Granderson, and the hope that Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira don't continue to show many signs of age?
Ultimately, the Yankees may want to get below $189 million in salaries in 2014. But their entire economic model is based on getting to the playoffs almost every year. And Nick Swisher, oddly enough, could be the kind of player who forces them to choose between the two ideals.
It is awfully difficult to imagine the Yankees blinking if they come to the same conclusion about Swisher. Then again, it is strange to imagine the Yankees cutting financial corners in general.