Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.
There seems to be a curse at Progressive Field when a player gets a section named after him.
It started with Travis Hafner and the popular Pronkville, a right field mezzanine section that found itself the final home to some of Hafner’s longest home runs. However, Pronkville grew quiet and disappeared once Hafner ceased to be the power hitter fans had come to know.
Now, there is Brohio, the renamed section 117 dedicated to Nick Swisher, who was signed in December 2012 to become the name recognition needed by the Indians’ roster. Though Swisher did his job in bringing big name recognition to the team, he struggled in his first season with the Tribe in providing the same popularity on the field that he did off.
Swisher spent 2013 in a slump compared to his previous seasons with the Yankees. He hit .246 on the year with a .763 OPS, hitting 22 home runs and knocking in 63 RBI.
Swisher was the first to admit that his 2013 season left much to be desired. “Was (last) year what I wanted? No,” Swisher said in regards to his first season with the Tribe. “Was I happy about that? Hey, sometimes it happens. I’ve played for 11 seasons. It’s been crazy ups and downs.”
Hoping that 2014 would be more of an up than a down, Swisher continued that he was ready to rise to the occasion presented to him.
“I’ve gotten myself back in shape and gotten myself back where I need to be. I’m super excited to get out there because last year wasn’t where I wanted to be. I set my goals higher than that.”
What exactly Swisher’s goals were for 2014 are not clear, but what is obvious is that they more than likely were not met.
Swisher, beginning his season at first baseman but moving around between outfield positions and serving as the designated hitter, disappointed at the plate as he started the season with a .211 average in the first month of the season.
Swisher’s performance did not get much better, as he hit .211 in May and a startling low .122 in June. July had him hitting .257 in 26 games, while his seven games in August compiled a paltry .160 average before Swisher found himself out for the season with double knee surgery.
On the field, Swisher committed nine errors this season at first base and a .980 fielding percentage. His total 2014 numbers stood at a .208 average with 111 strikeouts, 42 RBI, eight home runs, and only 75 hits.
Sadly, his sidelining may have been the best thing to happen to Swisher, and the team, all season.
It’s hard—and unfair— to blame the Indians struggles on one player, but it would be hard to find a player that caused the Indians more pain throughout the 2014 campaign than Swisher.
When Swisher signed with the Tribe, he did so in the form of a four-year, $56 million deal that includes an option for 2017. That $56 million contract is more than any other contract on the team and gives Swisher a yearly salary of $14 million. However, that money greatly eats into the Indians budget.
Fans love to gripe about the ways in which the Indians do and do not spend their payroll. Swisher and his contract are the prime example of why fans are frustrated — the most well-paid individual on the team is a player who is barely hitting above the Mendoza Line and whose greatest strength thus far is encouraging fans to take part in the OH-IO cheer.
Swisher has an infectious energy and is clearly able to energize a crowd or a team. When he first became part of the organization, he won fans over with his “Ohio kid” talk, allegiance to Ohio State, and dedication to the fan base. To have him healthy and on a roster would be a great spark for the Indians and the fans. As it stands now, though, Swisher is a rock dragging down the Indians budget if he cannot turn things around, and a disappoinment for the fans. Who wants to sit in a section named after a player who isn’t playing well or, much less, even playing?
The former everyday first baseman lost out on his position on the field to Carlos Santana during the Indians’ position-juggling start to the season. With other infield positions filled, and Swisher not proving to be much of an outfielder, he is slowly becoming relegated for use as a DH. However, his offensive does not give him much opportunity to advance in that role — aside from Jason Giambi, what DH can thrive hitting under .200? — and his inability to be used elsewhere limits the flexibility the Indians have in their lineup and on the field, flexibility that Terry Francona loves to have in a team.
There’s little opportunity to use Swisher in a trade, either, as his contract does not reflect his production and does not make him an interesting prospect for other teams. Yes, he has name recognition, but little else.
The bottom line: When the Indians signed Swisher, they were hoping for an enthusiastic veteran player who could provide a spark in a young lineup and contribute with his bat. What they got was that enthusiastic player, yes, but one who has been plagued by two of the worst years of his career.
Swisher will come back next season with two working knees, which could be all it takes to get him back on track at the plate. If he doesn’t step up his performance, however, he’ll continue to be an overpaid, overrated, and underperforming anchor in the Indians’ payroll, and the end of the 2016 season will not be able to come fast enough.
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images