When I sat down to think about what I should put in my weekly Wednesday article, I wanted to write something positive. Everything about the Indians has been so negative recently and I didn’t want to look like another Negative Nancy.
The problem is, however, there really isn’t much nice to say.
The Indians have been horrendous lately, flopping to a 0-6 road trip in California and then bouncing back a couple weeks later to get swept in embarrassing fashion at home by the Oakland Athletics. While the pitching has not been exactly stellar, the problems in the middle of the diamond are dwarfed by those of the people that surround them. The hitting and defense of this team have been atrocious and nobody sticks out like a sore thumb quite like our struggling poster-boy, Nick Swisher.
Before last season, Swisher was signed to the heftiest contract in franchise history when he inked a four year deal that includes a vesting option for 2017. The contract is worth $56 million through 2016 and then another $14 million would be earned in ’17 if Swish gets 550 plate appearances and passes a physical at the end of 2016.
That’s a lot of cheese for a guy who is not producing.
Swisher didn’t exactly “wow” the city of Cleveland last season when he batted .246 with 63 RBI and failed to deliver multiple times in the clutch during the AL Wild Card Game in October. Sure, Swish led the ballclub by hitting 22 homeruns but the total was still his personal low since 2007. For the most part, Swisher’s struggles went relatively unnoticed because he was always smiling and the team was winning.
Through this past weekend, things for both the Indians and Swisher have been much worse in 2014. The Tribe has hovered around the basement of the Central Division all season and Swisher’s struggles have been a major reason why. Heading into the Detroit series, Swisher was batting a lowly .196 with just three homeruns and 16 RBI through 43 games. He has been a butcher in the field as well, making routine plays look difficult and difficult plays look impossible. Through his first 41 games at first base this year, Swisher has already made six errors—most of which came on embarrassingly easy plays.
For as big of an issue that his poor performance at the plate has been, his terrible defense is the biggest problem. Any groundball can be turned into an adventure for the team leading the league in errors, but even when one is fielded cleanly, the play is anything but a sure thing. Swisher has been dropping throws that hit him in the glove, not coming off of the base to try to save a poor throw on top of booting groundballs all season long. The veteran leader has been a nightmare around the bag, leading to some people questioning his concentration in the field.
So why single out Nick Swisher? Carlos Santana has been terrible too. So has John Axford. And Ryan Raburn. And Carlos Carrasco. Why is Swisher the sole focus of an article that is just looking for someone to blame?
The one word answer: Money.
Fair or not, my expectations of the highest paid player in Indians history are far more lofty than those of anyone else. The Indians are a team that cannot afford to swing and miss on big contracts, but so far Swisher continues to swing and miss with both his bat and his glove.
At this point, it seems that the Indians completely overpaid for Swisher and it could be a contract that cripples the organization for the next several years. Coming into the deal, Swisher was always praised for his consistency. Through four years in the Yankees organization he averaged a .268 batting average with 26 homeruns and 86 RBI per season. His OPS was a solid .850 and he averaged 257 total bases for the stretch. He has not come even close to matching those numbers since joining the Tribe.
Back in early May, Swisher criticized the Cleveland media for the negative press that was surrounding the team. “We kind of got off to a rough start,” Swisher said. “There have been a lot of bad things written about this team in the papers. We pay attention to all that stuff…there has been a lot of stress in here that first month of the season, with people saying things, people writing things.”
Well, the solution is quite simple. If he wants people to stop pointing fingers at his team, then his team needs to start playing better. Unfortunately for him, the finger continues to point directly at Swisher’s smiling face.
Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports