The New York Yankees are hoping that a little nostalgia can resurrect the career of a former fan favorite player. At the age of 35, Nick Swisher is close to signing a minor league deal that would bring the switch-hitter back to the Bronx.
What Yankee fan could possibly forget Nick Swisher’s time as a member of the Bombers? Swisher’s tenure may have only lasted four years, 2009-2012, but during his time in New York the switch-hitting right fielder won over the fans with his energy, playful demeanor, and consistency, while also helping lead the team to the playoffs in each season, including a World Series championship in 2009.
With the club, Swisher compiled 105 home runs, drove in 349, and batted .268 with an .850 OPS. He made the only All-Star appearance of his career in 2010, a season in which the right fielder launched 29 home runs and produced a slash line of .288/.359/.511.
Sadly, Swisher’s success in New York did not translate with his move to the Cleveland Indians in 2013. In two and a half years with the Indians, Swisher was only able to amass 32 home runs and a batting average of .228, 21 points below his career norm. Another change of scenery proved even worse than Cleveland, when the Atlanta Braves acquired Swisher mid-2015 along with equally-struggling outfielder, Michael Bourn. It was clear after batting just .195 in 118 at-bats with the Braves, that Swisher had become a shell of his former self, forcing the club to cut ties with him late last month.
However, it is precisely this former self that the Yankees are hoping to tap into by using the touch of familiarity. With first baseman, Greg Bird, undergoing season ending surgery in the offseason for a torn labrum, the Yankees’ depth at the position became very thin. Swisher served as a right fielder for most of his Yankee career, but has dual versatility at first base and was pegged to start at that position when the Yankees originally acquired him from the Chicago White Sox in the 2008-2009 offseason. That was before the Yankees spent $180 million on first baseman Mark Teixeira during the same winter, which shifted Swisher to right field.
As a fan, it’s easy to get excited about the prospect of a Yankee/Swisher reunion, but we must remember that 2012, when Swisher was last a member of the Yankees organization, was a long time ago in baseball years and the switch-hitter is no longer in his prime. In fact, the 35 year-old could very well be on his way out of Major League Baseball should this experiment not work out. Swisher’s 2013 season with Cleveland was the last in which he hit over 20 home runs and recorded an OPS of at least .750.
The Yankees however, did not acquire Swisher in the fantasy that they would be getting the 2009-2012 version of the outfielder. The Yankees need him to merely be a solid backup option at first base and the outfield in the event that an injury should occur to Mark Teixeira or Carlos Beltran. While Dustin Ackley is currently Teixeira’s backup, Ackley has never played regularly at first base and would likely not serve in a full-time capacity should Teixeira be out for an extended period of time.
It is not out of the question to see Swisher create a niche for himself on this 2016 Yankees team. The Yankees are in the process of building a youthful foundation to a roster that had become old and overpriced. At the heart of this youthful turnover are players like Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird, and there are more on the horizon. While Swisher is “old-er,” his likable personality and passionate attitude would be a great fit with the younger players. Of course mentorship abilities aside, the Yankees need Swisher to be a competent producer on the field. Up until 2014, Swisher had posted an OBP of at least .340 since 2009. Swisher’s excellent eye and plate discipline has been a staple of the outfielder’s repertoire his entire career and I’m not convinced it has just disappeared along with his power.
Swisher has dealt with injuries to both knees for which he had surgery on back in August, 2014, which could be attributed to his sharp decline the past two seasons. There’s no guarantee that those issues have resolved themselves, but the fact that the Yankees allowed Swisher to workout at their training complex in Florida and is now expected to sign him to a minor league deal, at least suggests that there is some juice left in the tank. If the Yankees are correct, Swisher would provide much needed insurance at first base and the outfield, as well as a power bat off the bench.
While neither “Father Time” or “Mother Nature” are on Swisher’s side, history does show that a handful of Yankee players were able to turn back the clock upon returning to New York.
Andy Pettitte: 1995-2003, 2007-2010, 2012-2013
After a three-year detour as a member of the Houston Astros, Andy Pettitte returned to the Bronx in 2007. Pettitte ended up pitching for an additional four years, retired, came back and pitched another two years, and then retired for good in 2013. Those six years added another 70 wins to his already impressive career resume.
Alfonso Soriano: 1999-2003, 2013-2014
In desperate need of offense in 2013, the Yankees made a trade at the deadline to acquire the player they gave up for Alex Rodriguez in 2004, Alfonso Soriano. In 58 games, Soriano smashed 17 home runs and 50 RBIs. While the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs, Soriano’s power surge gave the team a fighting chance down the stretch.
Tino Martinez: 1996-2001, 2005
After spending two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and one with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Tino Martinez made one last hurrah by spending his final season with the team he won four championships with in six seasons from 1996-2001. With Jason Giambi’s defense on rapid decline, Martinez gave the Yankees a gold glove caliber first baseman with surprising amount of pop left in his bat at the age of 37. The “Bamtino” provided the Yankees with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs in 131 games.
David Wells: 1997-1998, 2002-2003
Left-handed pitcher, David Wells, was a huge fan favorite during his first stint with the Yankees, pitching a perfect game and winning a World Series title in 1998. The Yankees brought the burly left-hander back in 2002, where he won 19 games and joined a super rotation that included Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina. He won 15 games the following season in 2003.
Orlando Hernandez: 1998-2002, 2004
Technically, it’s debatable whether Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez actually qualifies for this list. Hernandez originally served for the Yankees from 1998-2002 after defecting from Cuba, and was traded to the Montreal Expos in 2003. However, due to surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, the Cuban right-hander never threw a pitch for the Expos. The Yankees then signed Hernandez to a one year deal in 2004, where he played a productive half season, winning eight games and producing a 3.30 ERA with 84 strikeouts
Of course for every Yankee who rediscovered success in their second stint with the Bombers, there are players who weren’t so fortunate like: Javier Vazquez, Roger Clemens, Randy Velarde, Jim Leyritz, and Mike Stanton to name a few.
Nick Swisher and the Yankees are hoping that the switch-hitter can follow in the footsteps of the lucky few by reclaiming his number 33 jersey and playing with the productivity and youthful exuberance that once made him a fan favorite and beloved teammate in New York.