The 2008 season ended with plenty of nostalgia for the Yankees, as the last game at Yankee Stadium II was played with the team scheduled to debut at the new Yankee Stadium in the spring of 2009. The historic switch served as a good distraction for us all, as the on-field product in 2008 was decidedly substandard. ’08 saw the Yankees finish in third place in the AL East, missing the postseason for the first time since there was no postseason in 1994, and they watched the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams win the AL Pennant after seeing the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007.
In addition to the pressure to turn things around and perform well in the new stadium, there were questions about whether or not a mistake was made in parting ways with Joe Torre and replacing him with Joe Girardi after the 2007 season. Additionally, although both Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi were very productive in pinstripes, their best days were behind them and the Yankees not so subtly suggested they seek employment elsewhere – but that would leave holes in the roster that needed to be filled. It was no secret that the Yankees were going to dispense with subtle tactics and make a big splash by acquiring multiple prime free-agent targets, which they eventually did.
Before the headline-grabbing signings though, Brian Cashman made an interesting, but less newsworthy acquisition by trading for the White Sox’ Nick Swisher. Although it didn’t dominate talk radio and generate hoopla in the manner that the signings to come would, it would go down as one of the best trades in Cashman’s career.
Trade Details: Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Teixeira to Yankees; Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Núñez to Chicago White Sox.
Transaction Date: 11/13/2008
NYY stats (2009 - 2012): 105 HR, 349 RBI, 327 BB, .268/.367/.483, 1,027 TB, 2010 All-Star
Swisher was coming off a down season in Chicago, but the not quite 28-year-old had established himself as a high OBP switch-hitter with power, who played four positions semi-regularly over five seasons in Oakland and Chicago. Due to the assumed departures of Giambi and Abreu, and with center fielder Melky Cabrera not making anyone forget Bernie Williams, what Swisher’s role in pinstripes would be was unclear. Yet with a skill set that wide-ranging and valuable, it was a no-brainer to give up no one who would be missed in return for Swisher, and figure out the lineup card in spring training.
In hindsight, it appears that a change of scenery was all Swisher needed. As you see from the numbers above, he was a very productive and valuable player for a team that averaged 98 wins per season from 2009 to 2012 and won the World Series in 2009. Due to the star power and incredible individual performances from several of his teammates over that span, Swisher’s contributions to the team’s success are often overlooked, but at the risk of being overly officious, don’t make that mistake. For some perspective, on teams with some serious firepower, Swish’s 124 OPS+ over those four seasons was third-best on the team, behind only Robinson Canó and Mark Teixeira.
One of the more unheralded aspects of his play with the Yankees was how remarkably reliable he was over four seasons. Obviously, averages of 26 HR, 87 RBI, 82 BB, 3.0 WAR and 124 OPS+ per season are impressive enough, but his consistency was just as notable. Over the seasons of 2009 – 2012, Swisher played between 148 and 150 games, hit between 23 and 29 homers, drove in between 82 and 93 runs, and posted OBPs of between .359 and .374 every season.
Somewhat ironically, his postseason performances were similar to his regular-season production in the sense that’s he’d never earn a catchy nickname as a postseason hero, but he did hit one home run in four straight postseason series from 2009 to 2011. His solo shot in Game 3 of the ’09 World Series off of Philadelphia’s J.A. Happ gave the Yankees a 6-3 lead and turned out to be the difference-maker, as the Yankees went on to win 8-5.
After four very good years, the Yankees allowed Swisher to leave via free agency, which as it turned out was the right call. After a slight drop off in production in his first year in Cleveland, his play regressed quickly after that. After being traded to Atlanta, then released by the Braves in the spring of 2016, he signed with the Yankees again in April of 2016, lasting three months in the Yankees’ system. Although he never made it back to the show, one had to admire Swisher’s commitment to, and love for, the game. A 35-year-old who’s set financially playing three months in the minors just hoping for another shot in the big leagues screamed “I love this game!” as much as his great moments in the Bronx did.
At the time, what appeared to be an interesting but not particularly noteworthy trade turned out to be one of the best moves of Brian Cashman’s tenure. Of course, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, and David Justice played key roles in Yankees’ championships, but the players sent the other way in those trades went on to do pretty well with their new teams. Typically, you do have to give up something to get something – but not in the case of the Swisher trade. The Yankees got a very productive player for four years and all they gave up was Wilson Betemit, who would put up 1.4 WAR over the final six seasons of his career, and two pitchers who threw a combined 6.2 innings in MLB.
Admittedly, it might say more about me personally than anything else that I prefer the extent of the heist as much if not more than the player acquired when evaluating trades. Regardless, a switch-hitter with power and a proclivity for reaching base safely who can play multiple positions is always a great acquisition. Well played Mr. Cashman and well done Swish.