An Afterthought in Spring Training, Swisher Coming Up Big for Yankees
When the Yankees were searching for a replacement for the departed Jason Giambi, they were not necessarily looking for another high-priced free agent. After they did not receive the best return on their large investment in the former American League MVP, no one could blame them for going a little more conservative the next time around.
That appeared to be the case when Yankees general manager Brian Cashman acquired Nick Swisher and a minor leaguer from the Chicago White Sox last November for back-up infielder Wilson Betemit and a pair of minor leaguers.
The switch-hitting first baseman/outfielder was not promised the job but it seemed that he might be the Bombers best option - at the time. Although he was coming off a less than sub-par season on the South Side of the Windy City (.291, 24, 69), Swisher had a fairly successful tenure in Oakland. His best season came in 2006 when he hit .254 with 35 long balls and 95 runs batted in.
The leading free agent first baseman on the market was Mark Teixeira, who was contemplating offers from Boston, Washington and Baltimore. The Yankees swooped in at the 11th hour and inked the Maryland native two days before Christmas to an eight-year, $180 million deal.
Relegated to a super-sub role behind not only Teixeira, but also Johnny Damon (left field), Xavier Nady (right field) and Hideki Matsui (designated hitter), the son of former major league catcher Steve Swisher just went about his business the only way he knew how.
He played and produced when called upon and finally got a chance to start when Nady went down for what appears to be the season with an injury. Swisher's batting average is not where he would like it to be (.238), but he has been a producer with 17 doubles, 14 home runs and 39 RBI.
"I'm having a good year so far," said Swisher. "[As a team], I don't think that we have reached our full potential, but it's still early in the season and we feel good about ourselves." At press time, the Yankees were 2.5 games behind Boston in the American League East with a 45-43 mark.
Besides playing left and right field, first base and DH, Swisher even threw a scoreless inning during a blowout loss early in the season. He gave up one hit, walked and struck out one apiece.
Swisher had no regrets about being dealt to New York, even after the acquisition of Teixeira. In fact, his feelings are just the opposite. "(It's) absolutely wonderful," he said. "It's a great thing. I'm just honored to be wearing the pinstripes."
The regal Yankees clubhouse has never been known as a place for a lot of fun and is usually all business. Swisher, known as a free spirit, would seem like an odd match for the 'Bronx Wall of Silence.' Has he tried to inject some of his energy into his new teammates?
"I'm not trying to break them down," he said with a laugh. "I'm just trying to fit in. It's been great. The team and the fans have really welcomed me into the city of New York."
If he keeps getting clutch hits and playing good defense, the welcoming committee will continue deep into the summer.