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How Will the Yankees Replace Nick Swisher?

The Missing Man Formation: Nick Swisher embraces Brett Gardner. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Missing Man Formation: Nick Swisher embraces Brett Gardner. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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All season long, we have been hearing that the Yankees will not be retaining soon-to-be free agent Nick Swisher due to their ongoing austerity kick. It’s a bit like the austerity campaign that is currently doing wonders for the Greek and Spanish economies, and it could have the same effect on the Yankees if they’re not careful.

By that, I don’t mean that the Yankees are going to go bankrupt and have to appeal to Angela Merkel for a bailout, but that it’s hard to win without production from right field and there is no heir apparent to Swisher in the organization. The Yankees have certainly done it, riding out Paul O’Neill’s 1999-2001 decline with three World Series appearances, but they compensated with strong production at defensive positions from the likes of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada. They are less likely to get offsetting production from those positions this time around, with the likely exception of second baseman Robinson Cano.

It hardly needs seeing that Swisher has been a very solid contributor for the Yankees in his four seasons in stripey longjohns, hitting .265/.364/.493 to date, and by the end of the season he should be one of the fewer than 40 Yankees that have hit 100 home runs with the team. A true switch-hitter, he’s hit .258/.343/.494 as a left-handed-hitting Yankee, .291/.407/.458 from the right side. He’s hit well both at home and on the road. He’s also streaky and his outfield routes are typically esoteric—he’s no threat to win a Gold Glove, though he is by no means a bad defensive player.

Given that left field is going to need to be rebooted next season in some form, production from either wing is not guaranteed: Brett Gardner is valuable because of the combination of mild offense and good defense, but there is no guarantee that the equation will favor the Yankees next year given that he’s missed the bulk of the season, while the Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones combo may succumb to age at any moment (despite his recent grand slam, Ibanez more or less already has). Possible free agents include Melky Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, and Carlos Quentin, among others. Of course, going the free agent route means spending money, which is part of the argument for not signing Swisher.

Now, Swisher is hardly a no-brainer re-sign. He’s 31 years old, his defense will likely slip towards DH territory in a couple of years, and at his 2011-2012 level of production (.259/.363/.454) he’s in the good-not-great area for slugging corner outfield types. How long can he maintain that versus how long of a contract he will want is one of those unknowns that keep general managers up at night.

Now, assuming the Yankees pick up Curtis Granderson’s 2013 option (or negotiate an extension), it’s possible his glove would look better in left or right than it has looked in center of late. The Yankees could dispense with Swisher, put a presumably-healthy (and arb-eligible) Gardner in center field… and then left field would still be a great void. They could gamble on a free agent center fielder such as Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton, but again, there is money spent, and risk.

The Swisher dilemma mirrors the problem with all austerity plans, baseball or European Union: you cut down on expenditures, but you still need the things you were spending money on if you’re going to continue to prosper. The Yankees can excise Swisher, but replacing his production at a lesser price is going to take something of a miracle.