NEW YORK - AUGUST 27: Nick Swisher #33 of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout after striking out to end the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on August 27, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Throughout the season, it has been said with such certainty that Nick Swisher won't be back with the Yankees that I have tended to assume that those stating it have gotten the word directly from Brian Cashman, Randy Levine, or another of the many chefs who stir the Yankees' broth. "He's gone-we're not interested," one of them must have said.
As good as Swisher has been, as broadly consistent as he has been-between 2006 and the present he's had the same approximate level of productivity in every year but one, that ill-fated stay in Chicago which got him traded to the Yankees (and even that off-year had 24 home runs and 82 walks in it), he's at exactly the moment in his career when issuing him a long-term contract represents a bad bet. He's 31 years old, and assuming he wants to put the "long" in "long-term contract." Indications are that he does. If Swisher truly wants a seven-year contract, his new employer would be on the hook for his age-32 through -38 seasons. Even a five-year deal would take him through age-36.
I realize GMs seem to have forgotten that players age-maybe Alex Rodriguez has reminded them, but I'm not sure-but most players aren't who they were at 35, never mind 38. A few days ago, I came across this quote from the great New York Times sports columnist John Kieran: "A good hitter rarely loses his batting eye. But the legs give out in baseball. The rule of the game is that a hitter is always a hitter, but a man is as old as he fields." Swisher will always hit some home runs, he will always take his walks (though have you noticed how his walk percentage has varied from year to year? It's the least-consistent part of a very consistent game), but his batting average will probably retreat to the .220s at some point and his defense, which is actually a bit underrated, will eventually subside.
Worse, since Swisher is very streaky, you won't know he's really done until the end of whatever season his decline finally takes place.
That said, the injury to Mark Teixeira and the fact that one outfield corner is already a mess o' compromises (Ichiro/Ibanez/Andruw et al) and the desultory way he's being replaced, brings up a really important question that all of those "Buh-bye, Nick" guys never seem to ask: How the heck do you replace all of that production, especially if the Yankees are not in a spending mode right now? The free-agent market isn't promising and the Yankees lack the ready pieces to promote to the Bronx. Brian Cashman has also been averse to trading prospects in recent seasons. If Swisher is gone, someone will obviously play right field, but unless there is an unsuspected trade for a star this winter, that player is likely not going to produce at the same level...
...And since Swisher is playing first base tonight, we should also ask: Will that guy lack Swisher's versatility as well?