The Indians, after signing free agent Mark Reynolds to play first base, will use Swisher, a switch-hitter, as a replacement for Shin-Soo Choo in right field.
The team recently traded Choo to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that eventually landed them four players from the Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, including center fielder Drew Stubbs and right-hander Trevor Bauer.
While the Indians’ approach appears curious – the team is signing a major free agent at a time when it is entertaining trades for right-hander Justin Masterson, closer Chris Perez and others – the club has an explanation.
Masterson and Perez are two years away from free agency. Choo was one. The Indians, a low-revenue club, are trying to thread the needle, and improve the team both short- and long-term.
The way the Indians see it, they have a strong core of pre-arbitration players, including second baseman Jason Kipnis, catcher Carlos Santana and outfielder Michael Brantley; third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and reliever Vinnie Pestano.
The Indians’ primary goal in any trade is to find young starting pitching that can A) add to their 0-to-3 core and B) make their 2013 rotation more presentable. That is why the acquisition of Bauer, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, fit the plan.
Swisher, in the view of the Indians, would remain good enough for long enough to contribute when the team got good again. He recently turned 32, but has been a remarkably consistent offensive performer throughout his career. In his four seasons with the Yankees, he averaged 26 home runs an .850 OPS.
The Indians will lose their second-round pick for signing Swisher; their first-round pick was protected because they had one of the 10 worst records in the majors last season. The Yankees, who had made Swisher a qualifying offer of $13.3 million, will receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round.