On January 3, 2008, the White Sox acquired Nick Swisher from the Oakland A’s for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino De Los Santos. This seemed like a pretty good trade for the Sox. They had seen Swisher play center field more than any other position with Oakland in 2007, and thought adding his bat to their lineup would make the team better. As we know, things didn’t work out all too well there. Says his former manager Ozzie Guillen:
“When you have a bad season like that, a lot of people can be blamed if you want to be negative,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recalled on Sunday. “(Swisher) did do some good things for us, playing out of position all season long. But when he started having trouble and was struggling, he couldn’t get control of that.
Part of the problem, I think, is that not only was Swisher playing a relatively new position for him — he hadn’t really played any center except for in 2007 — but also that he hit atop the batting order. Before 2008 he had hit leadoff a total of zero times in his major league career.
Ozzie is right in saying that “a lot of people can be blamed,” but it’s not only if you want to be negative. Swish definitely hit better when placed lower in the lineup, though “better” is a relative term here. In his 215 plate appearances from the seventh spot, Swish OPS’d a decent .779. That was a better OPS than what Ken Griffey Jr. mustered from center field in the second half.
Established players and rising stars stood in Swisher’s way. If the White Sox weren’t happy with Swish as a center fielder, they were stuck. Carlos Quentin, acquired exactly one month before Swisher, was in the midst of a breakout year, and established right fielder Jermaine Dye was having a good season. At first base, where Swisher did get reps, Paul Konerko was going to get every chance to prove that he could still hit. He did in the second half, posting a line of .270/.374/.535. In other words, there was no place to play Swish regularly if he wasn’t going to play center.
When the Sox traded him to the Yanks in November, it seemed like he’d finally have a starter’s role at one position: first base. Then, of course, the Yanks went out and got Mark Teixeira, complicating matters further. Where would Swisher play? That seemed to be a big question following the Teixeira acquisition.
Despite being displaced at one position, Swisher has a real chance for playing time with the Yanks, a chance he couldn’t get in Chicago unless he flourished in center field. All three outfield positions are open in one way or another. Swish could win the starting right fielder job over Xavier Nady, which is probably his best bet for playing time. He could take a good number of reps in center field if the Yanks so chose to do that, since there’s no budding superstar or established vet in that spot. Even at DH and left field, Swish could see some reps. Matsui and Damon are both 35 years old this year and could use days off here and there to stay fresh.
Had the White Sox hung onto him, Ozzie believes that Swish “would be in the same position he was last year — a fourth outfielder.” That’s the situation he could face on the Yankees too, but given the construction of each team, it looks like he’ll get a far better shot at significant playing time in New York. Which, I believe, will be Chicago’s loss and New York’s gain.