The Indians officially became big spenders this winter with the signing of free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher on Sunday.
Swisher agreed to a guaranteed deal worth $56 million over four seasons plus a vesting option for a fifth year, based on plate appearances, which can increase the value of the contract to $70 million.
However, the signing will not become official until Swisher, who turned 32 last month, passes a physical, something that probably will take a few days.
Swisher tweeted his satisfaction with the deal late Sunday morning, writing, “Wow! What a crazy few weeks. Hey Cleveland! Are you ready? Because I’m coming home!”
After growing up in Parkersburg, W.Va., a few miles from the Ohio border, Swisher played baseball at Ohio State. His love of the Buckeyes translated into a donation of $500,000 in 2011 to renovate the school’s baseball facility, which is known as Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium. Former OSU football coach Jim Tressel, current coach Urban Meyer, basketball coach Thad Matta and baseball coach Greg Beals helped the Tribe recruit Swisher, who visited Cleveland last week.
Only two position players have signed larger contracts this offseason: Josh Hamilton, who agreed to a $125 million deal with the Angels, and B.J. Upton, on whom the Braves bestowed $75 million.
How have the Indians suddenly become a player in free agency, and will they continue to be active the rest of the winter? Travis Hafner, Derek Lowe, Grady Sizemore, Casey Kotchman, Shin-Soo Choo, Jack Hannahan, Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp will not return to Cleveland, allowing the club to drop more than $36 million from last year’s $65 million payroll.
The signings of Mark Reynolds, Mike Aviles and Swisher plus raises due arbitration-eligible players such as Chris Perez, Justin Masterson and Joe Smith will add back about $27 million. But that means General Manager Chris Antonetti might have $9 million at his disposal, assuming the payroll remains at the same level as last season.
Adding a starting pitcher remains a priority for Antonetti, who might also seek candidates at designated hitter.
Swisher’s signing fills a huge hole in right field, created when Choo was traded. He also gives the Tribe a switch-hitting power hitter. Last year with the Yankees, Swisher batted .272 with 24 home runs, 75 runs and 93 RBI in 537 at-bats. He walked 77 times, pushing his on-base percentage to .364. His OPS (on base plus slugging) was an excellent .837.
In fours seasons in New York, Swisher averaged 26 homers, 87 RBI and batted .268. As consistently productive as Swisher has been during the regular season, he has struggled in the playoffs. In 46 postseason games, he compiled a .169 batting average with four home runs and eight RBI.
Other teams who displayed an interest in signing Swisher included the Red Sox, Rangers and Mariners and to a lesser degree, the Orioles.
The Indians had at least one advantage over these clubs. Because of a provision in the new basic agreement, a team is prohibited from losing its first-round draft choice as compensation for signing a free agent if the pick is among the top 10 (Cleveland will draft fifth). The Tribe will lose its second-round pick to the Yankees.
New York ensured it would receive a compensatory draft choice by making a $13.3 million qualifying offer to Swisher, but the Yankees did not pursue him.