What Josh Willingham’s contract tells us about Swisher’s


While filing the position in right field presents no problems for the 2012 Yankees, the 2013 team could have a vacancy there. After the 2011 season the Yankees exercised Nick Swisher‘s $10.25 million option, keeping him in the Bronx at least one more year. But after this season he reaches free agency, at which time his value on the open market might be more than the Yankees are willing to pay him. After all, if the Yankees really do plan to get under $189 million in 2014, Swisher just might not fit into the plans. That is, if he’s due a raise over his current salary. Given the current market, that might not be the case.

This week the Twins signed Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract. That looks like a bargain, since they reportedly had a three-year, $25 million out to Michael Cuddyer. Willingham has been a quality hitter in his six major league seasons, compiling a .262/.361/.475 slash line and a .364 wOBA (123 wRC+). He’s had some health issues, and he’s not the greatest outfield defender. But there’s little question about his bat. His worst major league season came last year, when he played half his games at the Oakland Coliseum, and even then he produced a .350 wOBA and 123 wRC+.

If Willingham’s career numbers look familiar, it might be because they resemble someone else’s:

It’s pretty crazy how those numbers match up almost exactly, save for Swisher’s poor 2008 season. They also share eerily similar platoon splits, about .350 wOBA against right-handed pitching and .375 against left-handers. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they’re in line for the same payday. There are a few factors, beyond offense, that separate Willingham and Swisher.

  • Willingham is, by the numbers and the eye test, not a very good defender. Swisher might not be a gem, but he’s serviceable in right. That gives him a leg up on Willingham.
  • Swisher will be a year younger hitting free agency. Willingham will be 33 next year, while Swisher’s first year after hitting free agency will be his age-32 season.
  • Swisher has a far better health record. He’s played in at least 150 games in every season since 2006. Willingham has yet to hit the 150-game mark.
  • Swisher already makes $10.25 million, so it’s not likely he gets a pay cut, especially from the Yankees.

Still, even with the advantages Swisher holds over Willingham, it’s not likely he’ll fetch a significantly more lucrative contract next off-season. Perhaps Michael Cuddyer getting three years at $30 million might change the equation, since Swisher is a better hitter than Cuddyer, is younger, and has had fewer poor seasons. But since it’s likely that Cuddyer gets something in Willingham’s range, it’s reasonable to expect Swisher to receive something in that range when he hits the open market.

If the Yankees could lock down right field from 2013 through 2015 at $11 million per season, would that work? One big issue at play here is a potential replacement. There are a few corner outfielders whom the Yankees could pursue, but they’re all flawed in their own ways. Josh Hamilton has injury concerns and will still likely get paid far more than Swisher. Andre Ethier will likely get a decent payday by reputation, but he’s only one year younger than Swisher and has nearly identical career numbers. Carlos Quentin will also hit free agency, but he has longstanding injury issues. Since the Yankees have no viable internal replacements, that means either trading prospects for a right fielder or re-signing Swisher. At $11 million per season that could be a viable proposition.

We can be sure that nothing will come of this until next off-season. The Yankees aren’t eager to deal with any player under contract, and Swisher certainly isn’t a priority. But when the time comes they might find that, even at three years and $33 million, he’s the most reasonable on the market.

Categories : Hot Stove League
  • Peter R

    Montero to Right field!

    • Matt

      Cashman has already shot that down many times.

  • Mike Myers

    I duno. If he thinks like Alberts wife, he would find 33 mil to play a game disrespectful.

    • Peter R

      Swish’s wife is a fine upstanding babe.

    • Steve (different one)

      Context is everything. IMO, St Louis’ offer was designed to LOOK competitive to the casual fan, but wasn’t really a competitive offer. Now, the Pujols are being a little tone deaf, and should probably just graciously move on, but I think his wife made some valid points. My two cents, YMMV….

      • Mike Myers

        Right, but no reason she had to say that. They probably shelled out more than they could afford. Its not like they were being spiteful, they are a smaller market. thats all.

  • Rookie

    I would think that a cheaper right fielder than Swisher — or one whose WAR total significantly exceeded his contract/taxable cost — would be part of the Yankees’ $189 million watusi (assuming that they’re still trying to do that dance).

  • MattG

    This doesn’t feel right. Swisher should certainly be headed for a four year deal, if not five, for $14-15M per. I think more data points need to be considered.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Based on our feelings for him (well, most of us), I’d agree. However, unless someone with similar numbers to him gets a larger deal, maybe he can be retained. I’d love for him to accept a 3/33-type contract.

    • Soam

      I’ve always thought assuming a healthy and productive 2012 Swish would be looking at a 3 year 40m deal or a 4 year 55m deal. 3 for 33 sounds like a bargain, but still don’t know if I’d want the Yanks to sign him with $189m in mind.

      • Fin

        God good, baseball has done its job. THey have Yankee fans wanting to get to a low number of payroll. Essh, all that money for seats and beer, and food, and parking. I dont give a shit if they spend 300mil a year on payroll. I’m going on 12 yrs with weekend season tickets, and they cost more and more. I’ll stop buying them as soon as the yankees dont give me wins, and watch them on tv. Why do Yankee fans care if the yankees save 20mil? ITs not going back into the product. Thats just 20mil for the Stiens. IF you look at 3bil the Angles just got, thats a fraction of what the yankees have for years, and will have for years to come. Eessh.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Which data points? What is there about Swisher that is so much greater than Willingham that he should get paid more than double per season?

      • Cris Pengiucci

        The “intagible” ones … :-)

      • Rainbow Connection

        Well…he acts wacky all the time.

      • ChooChoo

        Certainly not his throwing arm

      • Mike Axisa

        I do think durability is underrated to a certain extent, but it shouldn’t be enough to get him double what Willingham got.

        • Fin

          Is there a better outfielder than Swisher, available next year, or the year after? If so, what would it take to get him, and how much to keep him? My guess is Swish gets a nice 4 year deal, becasue there are really no better options.

          • Ted Nelson

            There are some options. Yoenis, Hamilton, Bourn and Upton (last two = CF with Granderson to RF). And anyone they can trade for.

      • Ted Nelson

        More than one contract, for example.

        Points other than offensive rates. Defense, baserunning, and health (which you mention… but don’t seem to think impacts the length of a deal). In terms of both fWAR and bWAR Willingham : Swisher :: Swisher : Werth. Werth was probably an overpay and perhaps Willingham is a bit undervalued.

        I don’t think $11 million per is crazy. Low end of the spectrum probably. I think he’ll get more than 3 years, though.

      • MattG

        More corner outfielders. Maybe Willingham’s contract will become an outlier.

  • Soam

    2013 will be the last year of Jeter’s contract (he has an option), maybe he finally goes to the OF? Doubt it. I think a 3 yr 33mil extension sounds fair. Swisher might be able to get more in free agency, especially if he has a big year, but he’s also someone who loves to be a Yankee and would probably be eager to extend if the price is near his market value.

    I’m on the fence about offering him a 3 year 33m extension though. I’d almost rather just take my chances with the thin FA market then sink 11m AAV for swishers age 33-35 seasons

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      But I listed the free agent options, and they’re not appreciably better than Swisher — save for Hamilton, and he’s probably not in the plans (and will be far more expensive).

      • Soam

        I know you did. And I didn’t suggest we could improve over swisher. But I think we can find an average replacement on the cheap side, and use the money to fill a different hole. Just because Swisher is the best option available next offseason doesn’t mean we have to sign him. We could find a stopgap and wait until the following offseason to address RF long term. Maybe by then we’ll have an internal option (heathcott, williams, etc)

      • Fin

        Joe I agree, no way can the Yankees take a risk on Hamilton. Too many aging players that cant be counted on to play a full season already. Hes a perfect fit on a young rangers team, with youth to fill in. He will sign for a fair deal with the Rangers.

        • Ted Nelson

          Ehhh… Rangers aren’t particularly young.

          Young is 35, Torrealba is 33, Beltre is 32, Napoli is 30, Nelson Cruz is 31, Kinsler is 29, Moreland is bad, Murphy is 30… their only young position players are Andrus and Borbon.

          Young is about the same age as A-Rod and Jeter. Tex is 31… younger than Beltre. Granderson is 30… younger than Cruz. Cano is 29… same age as Kinsler. Gardner and Martin are 28. Nunez is 24. Montero is 22. Cervelli and Romine are 25 and 23.

    • Mike Axisa

      Jeter’s going to play shortstop for the Yankees until he tells them he’s retiring. Infielders in the late-30′s don’t move to the outfield.

      • A.D.

        Yeah I think the Jeter to the OF idea can be killed. Unless of course he just tries to stick around at all costs to catch Rose

        • Fin

          I’d really like to see him catch Rose, even if it gets done outside the Yankees. It would be great to see. Seems even if he goes all out, he will end up a few hundered hits short though.

  • CJ

    4/42 12,12,10,8. Can we move on from Joel sherman’s thesis?

    • CJ

      With a fifth year team option for 8 w/ 2m buyout

  • well you know

    Willingham’s deal shows there was never the slightest possibility that Swisher could be dealt for player value after his $10M option was picked up.

    Are teams saying, let’s not pay $7M/y for a RF with 29 HRs and a 121 OPS+; let’s give the Yankees a starting pitcher so we can pay $10M/y for their RF with 23 HRs and a 117 OPS+? Not on this planet.

    Swisher’s defense when taken out of YS right field is not valued around the league so no plus for that.

    And why should the Yanks give him 3/33? Because they’re already overpaying him at $10M? No one but Cashman will ever give Swisher that much money.

    There very well may not be any good RF solutions next offseason. Beltran and his .900 OPS vs RHP would have been a good “win now” option. Jeter and Alex and Mo aren’t getting any younger.

    • thenamestsam

      First off, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the AAV on a 1-year commitment (Swisher) to that on a 3-year commitment (Willingham). A team pays less per year for a 3 year deal because there is more uncertainty in the later years.

      Secondly, comparing them on OPS+ and HR is just cherry-picking stats to make an argument. Swisher is the better player, and it’s not all that close (11.1 WAR over the last 3 years vs. 7.7). You can’t dismiss defense as though it doesn’t exist just because you claim that Swisher’s defense isn’t valued around the league(with no evidence).

      Swisher is about a win to a win and a half better than Willingham. That’s 5-8 million dollars a year on the open market. He’s in line to make 12-15 mil per. He’d be a bargain at 11.

      • Ted Nelson

        Yes, thank you. Swisher is a win better by both fWAR and bWAR. Who knows what systems teams use. Seems likely they’d rate Swisher higher, though.

        • thenamestsam

          FRAA also think Swisher is a much better fielder for those who don’t believe in batted ball data. On top of that, Fans Scouting Report also has him much better defensively for those out there who hate all the statistical systems. Not only that but the FSR has him as the worst fielder on the A’s last year, below even Hideki Matsui as a LF. That’s pretty damn bad.

      • well you know

        When your talking about trade value, which was my first point, the number of years of control actually cuts the other way. Why would other teams give up a significant player piece for only one year of Swisher, when they would be overpaying for that year? No chance.

        The next point is about the notion that the Yankees should offer Swisher 3/33, and that is an apples-to-apples with Willingham’s 3/21. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in dWAR. It just isn’t as reliable as offensive stats. The fundamentals about Swisher as a fielder are that he is slow with an erratic-at-best arm. His first couple of steps aren’t bad, so he does a decent job in YS RF, that’s it.

        And the biggest problem with Swisher is his mediocre performance against RHP, which is two thirds of the pitching universe and contributes to the lack of balance in the Yankees lineup.

        My prediction is this: no one but the Yankees will pay Swisher more than $10M/y to play baseball. We’ll see how that works out.

        • thenamestsam

          Of course they wouldn’t give up something significant for Swisher if they were overpaying him for that year, that’s a tautology. The question is whether they’d be overpaying him. The answer is that they wouldn’t.

          I think you’re misunderstanding what dWAR is, which is just a translation of a player’s defensive merits into wins. What you seem to disagree with is the method of measuring those merits. There are definite flaws in UZR, TZR, FRAA and the rest, but when they all strongly agree, as they do in this case, and agree with the eyes of the fans, it’s pretty hard to argue against that I think.

          The platoon split might be an issue, but he has a relatively small career platoon split, and those numbers are inherently bouncy year to year because of sample sizes.

          • well you know

            Yes, I understand that the W in dWAR stands for wins.

            The only way the war of words can have a resolution is by the actions of another team demonstrating the value that Swisher does or does not have outside the Yankee hype-verse. The last time he was on the open market, no one else wanted to give any value for him, which is why the Yankees got him so cheap.

            My prediction at the beginning of the offseason was that there was no chance Swisher would be traded. My next prediction, as I say, is that no other team will ever pay him as much as $10M a year.

  • vin

    983 vs 697.

    That’s the difference between Josh Willingham and Nick Swisher on B-R’s Fan EloRater (lower is better). Swisher’s number is 30% better than Willingham’s. 3/21, plus an additional 30% is about 3/27. I say, “take it or leave it, Swish.”

    Preposterousness aside, another decent comp may be David DeJesus (2/10 with a club option for a 3rd year). Less power, more love from UZR. What’s up with the under-appreciated former A’s OFers?;type=full

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    As far as I can see, the Yankees have another option if they are not going to resign Swisher. His name is Yoenis Cespedes. He would fit into the planned 189M budget for 2014. The thing is are the Yankees willing to shell out 30-40M 6-7 years of his services.

    • Mike Axisa

      And will he be any good. That’s still yet to be decided.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        With all the interest he’s generated, it’s also yet to be seen if $5-6M/year will be enough to sign him.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        I have to agree that it’s still to be decided. My humble opinion as a long time fan is that the guy will hit and field well from the start. I have seen lots of players come and go but this guy promises star calibe.

        • Jose M. Vazquez..

          That’s caliber.

  • mike_h

    Joe you forgot to add that Swisher also holds a 0.00 ERA

    • vin


      That makes me very happy.

    • FIPster Doofus

      The elusive No. 2 starter is right under our noses.

    • the Other Steve S.

      His BB/9 is kinda high though.

    • Monteroisdinero

      But he sucks in the postseason compared to Montero’s .1000 average :-)

      Seriously, Swish is going to have a great year in ’12 and we will overpay him for the following 3-4.

      • MattG

        use decimals much? :)

  • ADam

    Would be amazing to get swish at 3/33…

  • Mike

    4 year, $50 million is a pretty fair contract, and probably as high as I would want to go. If he averages 3 WAR/year over the contract (he has beaten that number in 5 of the last 6 years), that would be 12 WAR, at $5 million per WAR, that would be $60 million value, so a $10 million surplus value for the team. Plus the marginal win value on his contribution would be even higher, given it gives the team a higher probability of making the playoffs, which then in turn creates more value for the team. Not to mention he would be the best available free agent option next year for corner outfielders.

  • OldYanksFan

    As mentioned above, Swish LOVES being a Yankee, and would probably go 3 years at a SLIGHT home town discount. My guess is 3/$36m (at minimum) might get him. That would mean he would have to accummulate 8 WAR total over 3 years. My guess is he does better than that.

    Again, value is based on the market. Why it’s so low now (for OFers), I don’t know.

    The Devil you know is always better then the one you don’t. Swisher is good for the team in many ways, and has been very dependable. Is it worth saving a few million a year to go with an unknown?

  • CJ

    This $189 payroll won’t mean a thing if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs in which case they can shoot for an $89 m payroll. According to heyman, Toronto favorite to land Darvish and Texas favorite for prince. Detroit could get gio. Matt Moore will be rookie of the year. Angels. Red sox. Yanks will not make playoffs on the yearly basis unless they change course and sign prince as dh. Make an 8/185 offer

    • MattG

      not mentioned: Nick Swisher.

      • CJ

        Mentioned the obsession with $189 million that drives every signle post since Joel sherman’s piece

        • Ted Nelson

          The obsession seems to be your obsession with Prince Fielder.

          Another obsession seems to be your belief that games are won on paper and not on the field.

          And then there’s your obsession with the notion that anything in the future is guaranteed.

          We’ve seen 1000000 times that you want the Yankees to sign Prince Fielder. We get it.

    • Monteroisdinero

      And the Phillies and Red Sox are unstoppable for 2011. Why bother playing the season once the Crawford and Lee contracts were signed?


  • Fishjam

    Is everyone here saying they hope Swisher comes back to the Yanks for a 3yr/$30M+ deal or do you just think he is worth that on the open market?

    I have no desire to give Swish a 3yr deal at that money. The Yanks lack of year to year flexibility has got to be considered. Why lock into 3 more yrs of streaky Swisher? Would prefer someone who is more of an agressive hitter and not another hitter who’s value is so closely related to his ability to take a Walk. His disappearance in 3 straight post-seasons is easily dismissed as SSS but could better scouting and pitching also be a factor? Both Swish & Tex are very reliant on letting pitchers get behind and issuing walks, however better pitchers don’t get themselves into that trouble.

    Someone like Ethier would be more appealing. Although their overal #s are similar, Ethier is a .291 career hitter compared to Swisher’s .254. IMO, hitters with higher BA will outperform hitters who rely on the BB more times than not in the post-season and against better pitching in general. I’m glad that Montero seems to be a high average, agressive type-hitter and would like to see the Yanks add another one of those. Not that the patient approach isn’t effective but I believe to get maximum success, a lineup needs to have a mix of different types of hitters. The successful Yankee teams of the 90′s often had 6 .300+ hitters in their lineup.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Ethier is not better than Swisher – unless you like outfielders who are terrible defensively and have a career .661 OPS against lefthanded pitchers. Ethier’s OPS versus LHPs last season was a whopping .563.

      • Fishjam

        And makes up for it by smashing RHP to the tune of a .909 career OPS. As you know the Yanks struggled more against RHP last yr and that RHPs outnumber LHPs 3 to 1 in MLB. Yanks also employ a LHP-mashing bench OF most years and Andruw Jones could take 20-30 games in RF against tougher LH starters.

        Whether Ethier is better or not is up for debate. I think he’s a better hitter than Swish but more importantly, Ethier would be a better fit for the current Yankee team.

        Also RF at Yankee Stadium is one of the easiest positions to play in baseball. I’d imagine the defensive metrics for Swish & Ethier would be much closer if Swish was playing in spacious LA and Andre was in cozy YSIII.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Swisher played in Oakland’s spacious ballpark for a few years and his defensive numbers were fine there. I’d much rather see the Yankees pay him, say, $11 million per year to be a well-rounded player who contributes against all pitching and plays decent defense than give the money to someone who can only hit RHPs and would likely be a defensive black hole at Yankee Stadium along the lines of Sheffield and Abreu.

          • Fishjam

            Ethier had a 5.3 UZR in RF in a spacious park while Swish had a 6.9 UZR in the smallest RF in MLB. Don’t see how that makes Ethier a black hole.

            I’m not big on UZR and haven’t payed attention to Ethier’s defense when watching games but Swisher is at best average in RF.

            I’d rather platoon a guy who can mash RHP with a guy who can mash LHP than Swisher’s slightly above average play which is highly reliant on pitcher’s walking him.

            I’m not even in love with Ethier but I totally do not want to get locked into 3-4 yrs of Swisher at 33-36 yrs old. Would rather a platoon of a young player and a journeyman and use the money on pitching than give Swish a big commitment in his declining years. Cashman made a great trade in getting Swish and he had a nice run with the Yanks but I’m not signing up for another 3-4 yrs on a team with too many committed position players.

            • FIPster Doofus

              Understandable POV about not wanting to sign Swisher to a long-term deal because of his age. Similarly, if the choice is $10 mill-plus for Ethier or $10 mill-plus toward pitching help, I’m choosing the latter. Ethier’s lack of balance just doesn’t cut it for me.

  • Monteroisdinero

    If Swish is our on base guy who takes pitches and gets walks, why don’t we bat him behind Gardner at the top of the order or the bottom?

    • Ted Nelson

      They did, but Granderson took his spot.

  • Andrew j.

    his value is nil in the playoffs. I would pass

    • Fin

      Essh.. what if he hits 600 next year? damn man its such a ss. Hes bound to get hot in the post season, rather it with the yankees than sox.

  • Gonzalo

    Why Swisher should earn more than Willingham?

    Swisher .254 .360 .466 .826

    Willingham .262 .361 .475 .836