CLEVELAND — Terry Francona stood against the wall of the Cleveland Indians interview room on Thursday.
The new Indians manager wanted to add his two cents about his team adding free agent outfielder Nick Swisher.
“There’s no reason to play this cool,” Francona said. “This is a big day for us.”
Francona did not show excitement outwardly, but he promised he felt it. But his demeanor was near comatose compared with Swisher’s.
If energy and effervescence win games, Swisher will matter.
He walked into a crowded news conference, looked out and yelled, “What’s up, y’all?” He answered almost every question with a cackle, couldn’t stop saying how excited he was to be with the Indians and said over and over what an honor it was to simply be able to play Major League Baseball.
“There’s no stress in my world,” he said.
He laughed about his free agent visit, when the Indians invited Jim Tressel to lunch (he grew up in Columbus and went to Ohio State) and played video messages from Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer and basketball coach Thad Matt on the scoreboard.
“Have you seen these guys recruit?” he said, smiling ear-to-ear as he spoke.
He gave one good and concrete reason for even considering the Indians, a team that has seen its share of good players depart via free agency or trade the last few years: The hiring of Francona as manager.
“You don’t bring a guy like this over here if you don’t plan on winning,” Swisher said.
The Indians will plug Swisher’s veteran switch-hitting bat into the middle of a lineup that needs all the run production it can get. He called the Indians a young team ready to win, and even went so far as to say the starting rotation would be “awesome.” Yes, exuberance can sometimes go too far.
But Swisher’s a guy who actually wanted to come to Cleveland, and was happy about it. “You want that opportunity and ability to win in the future,” Swisher said. “That’s definitely in the cards for us.”
Then he called the day “super-exciting.”
Then he smiled.
“I can’t help it, man,” he said, his voice rising. “I’m super-excited.”
At 32, the Indians are taking a leap of faith with Swisher by giving him a deal that is four years and worth $56 million — and could last five years and be worth $70 million. But he had 24 HRs and 93 RBI last season with the Yankees, and has averaged 26 home runs the past eight seasons (with Oakland, the White Sox and Yankees). He is one of three American Leaguers to hit 20 homers in each of the last eight years, and he has played an average of 148 games.
Francona called Swisher a middle-of-the-order bat, a switch-hitter and a guy who plays every day. That type of durability has been missing with some high-priced Indians the past few years.
And the Indians thought enough of Swisher to make him the highest-paid free agent in team history.
“I’m not sure we could have found a more perfect complement to our team and to our organization,” GM Chris Antonetti said.
Swisher managed a few words himself about the Indians most recent stretch of glory — between the laughs of course.
“I think it’s that ultimate goal, man, of bringing it back to the ’90s, when everything was rocking and rolling here, because this ballpark was the place to be,” he said. “With the moves they’ve made, we are working our way back to that.”