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Replacing the 'Dis-qualified:' Nick Swisher

11/19/2012 11:53 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Nick Swisher has hit .268 and become a big fan favorite in his four seasons in pinstripes.(AP)
Free agency is in full swing, and already, a handful of big-name players have changed hometowns.

The Yankees have more than a dozen key contributors in limbo right now, three of which (Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda, and Rafael Soriano) rejected one-year qualifying offers to remain in pinstripes. Of course, the Yankees could end up re-signing any or all three of them; if they don’t, they’ll get a compensatory draft pick, but they’ll also have to find an immediate replacement somewhere.

That means, at the outset, that the Yankees could have a four-year starting right fielder, a solid veteran No. 2 starter, and a valuable late-inning bullpen piece/potential closer to replace – but between the team’s desire to get payroll under $189 million and the few prospects percolating in the lower minor league system, it may not necessarily mean doing so with a long-term, high-priced free agent like Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, or Jonathan Broxton.

In an effort to fuel the hot stove, we’ve compiled a list of a few possible candidates for each job, and how they might fit in pinstripes if Swisher, Soriano, and/or Kuroda are not retained. In today’s part one, we’ll take a look at right field, where the Bombers may have to replace a .268-26-87 average line over the last four years; on Thursday, we will look at replacing Soriano, and then on Saturday it will be Hiroki Kuroda’s turn – and as always, you can tune into the latest edition of Yankees Baseball Tonight on Mondays and Thursdays (Thanksgiving excluded) here on YES for more hot stove discussion.

RF Candidate No. 1: Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro hit .322 with five homers and 14 steals in half a season with the Yankees, and is said to be interested in returning to the Bronx. The 10-time Gold Glover seemed to be revitalized in pinstripes, and his retention would give the Yankees perhaps one of the best defensive outfields of all time as well as giving them someone to complement (or perhaps fill in for, at least early on) at the top of the lineup. And, while he may cost more than some options, because he is 39 years old, Ichiro likely wouldn’t command more than a two-year deal at most.

RF Candidate No. 2: Ryan Ludwick
In his age 33/34 season, Ludwick had one of the best years of his career, hitting .275 with 26 homers and 80 RBI for Cincinnati in 2012. On the con side, he is 34, has played left field almost exclusively over the last couple years and may have benefited last year from the homer haven that is Great American Ballpark – but on the pro side, he does have more career games in right field than anywhere else, has the kind of gap power to be a dangerous hitter in Yankee Stadium, and, because of his age, could be the kind of guy who gets maybe a two-year deal worth $12-$16 million. Ludwick is negotiating a re-up with the Reds, but if Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty is only willing to go two years as reported, it may come down to a matter of money.

RF Candidate No. 3: Cody Ross
Ross was arguably the Red Sox’ MVP last season, hitting .267-22-81 and doing most of his damage at Fenway Park. He could be equally dangerous in another offensively-skewed park, but because he’s only 31, he may be looking for a slightly longer-term deal than the Yankees may be willing to give. Still, given his potential offensive production, he may still be cost-effective enough to consider longer-term.

Wild Card Candidate: Scott Hairston
Scott Hairston may not be an everyday player, but could be very dangerous in the right role – perhaps, say, as the Andruw Jones-esque right handed complement of a platoon? He hit .286 with 11 homers in 199 plate appearances against lefties last year, but held his own against righties as well (.239 with nine homers in the same amount of PA), so he isn’t necessarily a liability in non-platoon situation. Given the season Raul Ibanez had in 2012, it’s not entirely implausible to think the Yankees could sign someone like Hairston, re-up Ibanez for one year, and maybe even employ a three-headed monster with those two and a fifth outfielder (Chris Dickerson, perhaps?) in the RF/DH slots.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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