Swisher Gets His Happy Ending – But Not with Tribe

When the Indians signed Nick Swisher after a disastrous 2012 season, optimism was running high. His bubbly personality couldn’t help but rub off on his teammates. The Dolans were willing to open the checkbook (the four-year deal was $56 million, with a club option for a fifth year bringing the deal to a staggering $70 million, more than the Indians had ever paid for a free agent) and made the pitch for the Ohio native to return home.

Now that Swisher’s riding off into the sunset, announcing his retirement about a year and a half after the Indians decided they’d rather eat Chris Johnson’s salary than keep him around, we can close the book on him. (Insert Harry Doyle saying, “Thank God.”) Swisher’s signing was a bad marriage that actually might have held back the team’s success.

Swisher was 32 when the Indians signed him – an age typically regarded as being on the down slope of a player’s career. But there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t play – and wouldn’t produce. In each of the previous eight years, he’d played at least 130 games (and at least 150 in six of those years). His average wasn’t great, but he was good for at least 20 home runs.

And in 2013, it looked like money reasonably well-spent. Swisher batted .246 with 22 home runs, including seven home runs and 17 RBIs as the Indians went 21-6 in September with ten straight wins to end the season. They succumbed to the Rays in the Wild Card Game, but things looked bright in 2014.

But Swisher’s knees gave out the following year. He was shut down that August and received arthroscopic surgery on both knees. He was activated in May 2015, but was put on the disabled list a month later. That August, he and Michael Bourn – another high-profile free agent signed in the 2012-13 offseason who never reached his full potential in Cleveland – were shipped to Atlanta for Johnson.

Swisher had run his course. His outsized personality started to wear thin and his output wasn’t matching the size of his contract – or the space he seemed to take up. In fact, after his departure, there were reports that some of his teammates weren’t broken up to see him go – which seemed to be borne out by their record. The Indians went 32-21 after Swisher’s departure, finishing the season a game above .500. It was a great recovery, but a sorry end for a team that was picked by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series.

Swisher didn’t last long in Atlanta either, and latched on with the Yankees as a free agent. He spent the beginning of the 2016 season in the minor leagues. He stepped away from the game that summer for the birth of his second child, and officially announced his retirement last week with a post on the Players’ Tribune website. (It’s easy to dismiss athlete-generated content on the site as something cultivated by marketing executives, but read Swisher’s note and tell me that you think anyone but him actually wrote it.)

Swisher wasn’t the worst free agent signing by the Indians. But for a team that signed – and then got little production out of – Wayne Garland, Keith Hernandez and Jack McDowell, that’s a high bar.

Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan

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