The New York Yankees made their first notable move of what is expected to be a busy offseason this past week, acquiring Nick Swisher and Kaneoka Teixeira from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jhonny Nunez and Jeff Marquez.
Credit Brian Cashman for taking a flier on Swisher, who is coming off one of his worst single-season performances but has been a productive major league hitter in the past. Cashman is buying low, which is usually an effective investment strategy.
The deal, then, is an early win for the Yankees under one condition: it does not prevent them from making a serious run at free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Swisher may turn out to be a bust, but is a breakout candidate in a new environment. He is about to turn 28, often times the peak for hitters, and is a lock to hit 20-plus home runs per year while drawing 80-plus walks. His value is at its low right now, though, because of his .219 batting average with the White Sox.
Swisher has never been able to hit for a high average in the past, but his ’08 clip is misleading. He posted an unusually low BABIP—batting average on balls in play, not accounting for home runs and strikeouts—at .251. With a decent line drive rate, it indicates that he was the victim of plain old bad luck. Three True Outcome players have fluctuating BABIP totals generally, but expect that mark to regress back to the mean in 2009. This will potentially push his batting average around his previous career norm of .250.
Swisher has been an above-average offensive player in the past, posting OPS totals of .865 and .835 in his final two years with the Oakland Athletics. He is clearly not a savior, but is a nice complementary bat to add to a potent New York lineup. The Yankees have the chance to gain considerable value from this deal if he can get his average back up to an acceptable level and post numbers consistent with his career line of .244/.354/.451/.805 OPS. He is also a capable defender—though below average in center field—at first base and each corner outfield position; look for him to fill multiple roles in New York.
Still, according to Cashman, Swisher is expected to be the Yankees’ opening day first baseman. This is perhaps only a strategy to drive the price tag down for Teixeira, arguably the best position player available and who will draw interest from a number of suitors. If New York does not sign the switch-hitting slugger, their new option will be a defensive upgrade over Jason Giambi, whose offensive production will be difficult to replace in this scenario. Jorge Posada is also expected to see some innings at the position as well.
If Swisher takes over full time, though, he will leave the Yankees with another below-average hitter at an important position; his bat simply does not play as well at first base as it does in the outfield.
The Yankees would be better suited signing Teixeira, of course, with Swisher taking over in left field for the declining Hideki Matsui and filling various needs throughout the course of the season. If this occurs, this deal could turn out to be a steal.
The other Teixeira (unfortunately for Yankees fans, not Mark) was just a throw-in, but will likely establish himself as a middle reliever in the majors at some point. The 22-year-old right-hander missed bats to the tune of a 9.67 K/9 in 15 Double-A appearances in ’08, striking out nearly a batter per inning (60 in 61.0) combined between two levels. He posted a 1.33 ERA while picking up 22 saves overall.
Teixeira relies on a fairly average sinker/slider combination, but has poor command of his pitches. His slider is close to being a plus pitch, which has been the biggest reason for his minor league success. Look for him to surface in a few years, especially if he can add a few ticks to his fastball and make some strides on the command front. His ceiling is fairly limited, though; his stuff leaves a bit to be desired, according to several scouts, and he projects as a typical big league reliever.
On the Chicago side, they clearly did not receive as much in return as they sent to Oakland for Swisher last winter.
Betemit was once a top prospect, but, at 27, is unlikely to ever garner regular time in the majors. He can play multiple positions adequately—he logged innings at every infield position for the Yankees—but his plate discipline never caught up to the talent offensively. Barring a huge power breakout, he is unlikely to ever be more than a capable utility bat due to his inability to draw walks. In 1098 career at-bats, he has produced a line of .260/.325/.437, with 42 home runs.
Marquez has been hyped as a top prospect in the New York farm system since getting selected in the supplemental first round back in 2004. He has not really lived up to the prospect billing since then, however. The right-hander lacks a true out pitch currently, as he relies on a mediocre curve ball when he is ahead in the count. Since he has not developed one, he has struggled to miss bats consistently; in 14 Triple-A starts, he posted a poor 3.68 K/9 ratio, with only 33 Ks in 80.2 innings pitched.
Marquez has an average fastball with pretty good sink, but has left a lot to be desired with his performance to this point. He could develop into something if he can add another plus pitch, probably a cut fastball, but was pretty expendable as far as the Yankees were concerned.
Nunez is a nice long-term sleeper who could develop, yet is still pretty far away. He began the season in the Washington Nationals organization. He spent a large portion of the first half as a starter in High-A ball, where he flashed the ability to rack up strikeouts—82 Ks in 81.0 innings pitched—before reaching Double-A as a reliever. He was then shipped to the Yankees, who kept him in a relief role at the same level.
Nunez projects as a middle reliever in the long run. He will need to induce more ground ball outs to keep rising, though.
The White Sox, under Ken Williams, are expected to make a splash in the Hot Stove this winter. According to Ken Rosenthal, Williams has only just begun dealing. It may have been too soon to unload Swisher at this point, though, given his fairly solid track record and plus on-base skills. Considering what they sent to Oakland for him— Gio Gonzalez, Faustino de los Santos and Ryan Sweeney, a pretty solid group of prospects—they appear to be pretty big losers for their efforts.
This trade may end up as a wash for New York, but Swisher has the potential to make a real impact for them as they attempt to regain prominence in the American League East—all for a relatively cheap price.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.