Yankees acquire Nick Swisher from White Sox
Choosing to address first base before concentrating on pitching when the free-agent market opens Friday, the Yankees obtained Swisher and right-hander Kaneoka Texeira for pitching prospect Jeff Marquez, infielder Wilson Betemit and minor league pitcher Jhonny Nunez.
A switch-hitter who turns 28 on Nov. 25, Swisher was acquired by the White Sox from Oakland last January and hit .219 with 24 homers and 69 RBIs. He stuck out 135 times and his .332 on-base percentage was the lowest of his career.
"He had his worst major league season," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "We did our due diligence and engaged our scouts and do believe and certainly are hoping that '07 and '06 are more representative of Nick Swisher than '08. It's certainly a risk that were willing to take on."
Swisher, a son of former major league catcher Steve Swisher, could replace Jason Giambi at first base. Should the Yankees sign free agent Mark Teixeira or another first baseman, Swisher could take over in right field from Bobby Abreu, who is a free agent. Xavier Nady is another option in right.
"One of the reasons we were attracted to Nick is that fact that he has got the flexibility, versatility to play left, center, right, first," Cashman said. "We obviously have a vacancy at first base but, you know, the winter is early."
Marquez, a 24-year-old right-hander, was 6-7 with a 4.69 ERA at Triple-A Wilkes-Barre, his season shortened by a shoulder strain. White Sox general manager Ken Williams watched him pitch in the Arizona Fall League and thinks he might be in the major league rotation next year.
"Absolutely he'll be able to challenge for a spot," he said. "What he brings to the table is a 90-to-94 mph fastball with a lot of sink, similar to the sink that Jon Garland had while pitching in our ballpark."
Williams praised Marquez for a slider, curveball and power changeup. Betemit, a backup infielder with the Yankees, will push Josh Fields at third base. Juan Uribe figures to be traded.
A fan favorite in Oakland known for giving teammates a wide variety of different handshakes, Swisher hit .211 in April and .176 in May. After a hot June, he faded in the second half.
Swisher is signed for $5.3 million next year, $6.75 million in 2010, $9 million in 2011. His deal includes a $10.25 million club option for 2012 with a $1 million buyout.
"We felt that the fit just wasn't good enough to continue on down this road," Williams said. "Early in the season is there were a lot of balls that he hit right on the nose and those were right at people. ... What happened was he ended up falling into changing a little bit of the mechanical aspect of it and that translated into some of the mental aspect of it, and it spiraled down for him to where he was a little bit confused before the end of the season."
Cashman's move was only his first. There are 171 free agents who can negotiate with all teams starting Friday. CC Sabathia figures to be the Yankees' No. 1 target.
"Would it be a disappointment if we don't get Sabathia?" manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously, for a deal to work it has to work on both sides."
A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets could be secondary targets for the Yankees, whose streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances ended this year.
"We prioritized everything," co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said. "I don't think it's any big mystery."
Sheets was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts for Milwaukee his highest total since 2004.
"As far as Sheets is concerned," Girardi said, "he was shut down at the end of the year and that's a concern."
After two injury-shortened seasons, Burnett had his best season with Toronto and went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA. That included a 3-1 record and 1.64 ERA in five starts against the Yankees.
"Obviously, we saw the best of A.J." Girardi said. "But he has had some injury problems and those are things that you have to weigh in considering how you rate the free-agent pitchers out there, and we do weigh those things."
Showing players the new Yankee Stadium will be a recruiting tool. Girardi has his pitch ready.
"New York has a heartbeat that you're going to love, the excitement that the fans bring on a daily basis," he plans to tell them. "It's going to be a wonderful experience and you're going to love your time in New York."
Girardi will host a charity function for next Wednesday to raise money for Alzheimer's research and care. Girardi's father, Jerry, has the disease. "My dad was a very healthy strong man and it wasn't up until about two years ago that the disease got really bad, where all of a sudden he couldn't be at home," the manager said. "At this point he's in a wheelchair and can't feed himself. He has to be basically taken care of and that's hard for me to watch. But I think what I miss most is the conversations with my father because he enjoyed baseball so much." ... New York doesn't plan to contact free agent OF Manny Ramirez at this point. "Not yet. It might be advantageous to do at some point," Steinbrenner said.