Just yesterday morning, people were discussing the possibility of the Seattle Mariners making a play for free-agent outfielder Jason Bay. Bay is from the area, see, he's available, and he's something of a bounce-back candidate. At earlier points in time, Jason Bay was good at baseball. More recently, Jason Bay has been much worse at baseball, relative to other major leaguers. In Jason Bay's defense, the gap between Jason Bay and you has only very barely shrunk.
Then yesterday night, people started discussing the Mariners going after free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton. Now people will be discussing that and the Mariners going after free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher. That escalated quickly. Welcome to the best or worst time of year to be a baseball fan.
Source: 5 teams have serious interest in Nick Swisher, including Rangers & Mariners. Swisher plans to reject the Yankees' qualifying offer.— Mark Feinsand (@BloggingBombers) November 9, 2012
This is a bigger deal than it seems like. Many of us have probably temporarily lost perspective, because we were just thinking about Hamilton, and Hamilton's the big fish. Swisher is also a big fish, but he doesn't compare to Hamilton. Would've been better to go Bay --> Swisher --> Hamilton instead of Bay --> Hamilton --> Swisher. But it is what it is and once again, as with Hamilton, this is more exciting than the alternative, which would be to have the Mariners not linked to Nick Swisher. The more we can focus on transaction rumors, the less we have to think about the reality that the Mariners' fate is going to depend in large part on the depressing players they already have on the roster.
Swisher has been on people's minds for a while, especially after Dave put up his offseason post at USS Mariner. He's one of the best players available on the free-agent market, and back in August there was talk that he might look for a Jayson Werth-type contract. Nick Swisher can look for whatever he wants, but he'll be limited to choosing from what he's offered, and I'm not sure there's going to be a Werth-type contract on the table. If there is, it'd be nice if the Mariners were not the offering party. That is a big contract and Swisher is nearly 32!
Swisher's big selling point is his consistency. Actually, no, I take that back, Swisher's big selling point is his ability to play baseball. A secondary selling point is his consistency, as he's been more or less the same player for years. By FanGraphs WAR, over his four years with the Yankees he's stayed between 3.2 and 4.1. Put less dorkily, in Swisher you figure you have an above-average bat, 20+ home runs, walks, and defensive flexibility. His public personality is also consistent and some might say consistently insufferable if you're one of those people who hates happy people. I'm not one of you, but I do understand you.
Now, a mistake people make is assuming that a consistent player will remain consistent. It doesn't work that way. Consistency is only a thing until it isn't, and Swisher's entering the period where you'd expect him to begin to decline. It isn't impossible that next year Swisher could post a. 700 OPS or a .900 OPS. Every single projection comes with error bars, and while a player with a track record of consistency might have slightly tighter error bars, the bars still exist. Consistent players inspire over-confidence, and nothing about Swisher can be taken for granted.
But Swisher's been a pretty good player, and he projects going forward as a pretty good player for some while. I understand if you have some reluctance to trust a player coming out of Yankee Stadium, but here are Swisher's splits since joining New York in 2009:
In 69 more plate appearances on the road, Swisher has hit 20 more doubles, two more triples, and 13 more home runs. He hasn't been feasting off of Yankee Stadium and of course we expect Safeco to be less extreme beginning next year than it has been in the past. I mean, don't get me wrong, if the Mariners were to sign Swisher he'd be terrible because anybody the Mariners sign turns out terrible, but we'd have to feign surprise because the obvious indicators aren't there.
It's handy that Swisher is a switch-hitter. It's handy that Swisher can play the outfield and first base, because in the Mariners' specific situation, that gives them flexibility for when Franklin Gutierrez isn't lying in a coma. I'm going to get way ahead of myself right now and there's nothing you can do to stop me. Imagine the Mariners signing Swisher and Hamilton. When everyone's healthy, you could have Swisher at first and Hamilton/Gutierrez/Saunders in the outfield. When someone's hurt, and someone would be hurt, Swisher goes to the outfield and you play, hell, I don't know, Justin Smoak or some shit. Injury-proneness is undesirable, but it also allows for shifting around and playing-time distribution.
But we can't count on Swisher or Hamilton or anyone, really, because the Mariners aren't the only team in baseball, and other teams know that Swisher and Hamilton are good at baseball too. A bunch of teams will be in on Swisher and some teams will be in on Hamilton, and teams will be in on the other players the Mariners might like. Swisher will ultimately sign for a hefty multi-year commitment. There are reasons to be in favor and there are reasons to be nervous. If the Mariners are intent on spending, though, then they need to spend. These dalliances are free.
I don't know what the Mariners are going to do, and neither do you. I suspect the Mariners don't even know, because only so much of the offseason is under their control. But it's early November, and we're already getting to think about Nick Swisher and Josh Hamilton. Neither Swisher nor Hamilton is likely to sign for a while, which means we get to think about them and the Mariners for at least a while. The hot stove is now officially...hot. Let's...make...soup? On it? Holy shit this is my worst conclusion ever. So much for presidential speech-writing. "God bless America, and Ritz crackers." "Ritz crackers?" "Somebody fire and also feed that terrible speech-writer."