Yesterday, the Rays signed Jhonny Nunez to a minor league contract. Nunez had been the last remaining player acquired in the trade that sent Nick Swisher to the Yankees (with Kanekoa Texeira) and brought back Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Nunez. While Swisher, amusingly, still has one year remaining on the undermarket contract he was signed to when the White Sox had him, now is a good time to quantify just how terrible the trade was. And hopefully never think of it again.
At the time of the trade, it was rumored that Swisher didn't "fit" in the White Sox locker room and he also was accused of sulking during his subpar 2008 season: .219/.332/.410 and a wOBA of .325. That was slightly below league average offense. He played all three outfield positions, as well as first base, but he spent the most time in centerfield. Depending upon how one viewed his defense, he was worth 1.3 fWAR or -0.8 rWAR. I think rWAR was overly harsh on his defense, based upon his other seasons, and fWAR may be slightly optimistic. 1 WAR seems like a nice round number to use for his approximate value.
While he probably earned the $3.5 million the White Sox paid him, this was by far his worst season and represented a significant decline. Of course, the primary driver of his bad offense was a .249 BABIP - well below his career average. His other offensive components - home runs, walk rate, strikeout rate - remained in line with his prior seasons. And he was 27 years old, usually known as the prime of a player's career.
Whether his was a skill decline was the subject of significant debate both on SSS and elsewhere. I will be kind and not name the disbelievers on this site (they know who they are) but, objectively, the better argument at the time was that it was not a skill decline but one largely attributable to luck and other correctable factors. It should have been expected that, going forward, Swisher would perform much more like 2006/2007 Swisher and not 2008 Swisher.Unfortunately, the White Sox front office apparently were amongst the disbelievers They wasted little time in trading him away, sending him to the Yankees barely two weeks after the end of the World Series. Even if one believes that Swisher had so burned his bridges that it was impossible for him to return to the White Sox in 2009, the speed of the trade and the small return suggest a team that was desperate to dump a player as quickly as possible at whatever price.
Let's keep in mind that, less than a year prior, Swisher and his 5 years of team control for $34.8 million was worth two top prospects (Gio Gonzalez, ranked #26 in baseball by Baseball America, and Fautino De Los Santos, ranked #60), as well as a formerly well-regarded prospect, Ryan Sweeney.
Ten months later, in a quantity disguising lack of quantity package, he returned Betemit, Marquez and Nunez - none of whom were regarded as much of anything. And the White Sox had to throw in Texeira as a kicker to get that package. Let's go over what each of these players did for their respective new teams.
He was arbitration eligible for the second time and the parties avoided going to a hearing by signing him to a one year, $1.3 million contract. It was alleged that some scout in the White Sox organization thought Betemit would be able to play shortstop and he was acquired to backup Alexei Ramirez. That silly notion was dispensed with in one comical inning in the first Spring Training game. They still thought he could play third base and first base and he made the 2009 opening day roster as a backup at both of those positions.
He played in six games at third base. He had eight chances in those games. He committed an error on four of those chances.
In comparison to that, his offense was awesome: .200/.280/.311 in 50 plate appearances.
He saw his playing time dwindle in May and, on June 4, he was designated for assignment to make room for Gordon Beckham and was placed on waivers. Meaning, any team in baseball could have claimed him. No one did and he was outrighted off the 40 man roster to Charlotte, where he spent the remainder of the 2009 season taking over Mike MacDougal's role of collecting some nice checks and being unimpressive. As he was not on the 40 man roster, he became a free agent after the season. And he signed with the Royals.
Contribution: Two months of infrequent below replacement level play.
Nunez perhaps was the most interesting player in the trade. While he was clearly a reliever, the righty had a nice 92-95 MPH fastball and a mercurial slider. His issue was command but it certainly was not unheard of for a 23 year old to iron out that problem.
And it appeared that he had done just that. Nunez hadn't played above AA and he was assigned to Birmingham to start the 2009 season. He had some trouble throwing strikes there, as evident in his 4.1 BB/9, but, when he did, he was striking guys out, as evident in his 11.1 K/9. He moved up to Charlotte midseason. And there he solved his control issues (1.8 BB/9) and maintained a healthy strikeout rate (8.1 K/9). In both stops, he minimized hits allowed.
That earned him a callup in early August, in which he threw 12 pitches and retired each of the three batters he faced. After two games, though, the White Sox needed a spot start from Carlos Torres and he was sent back to Charlotte. He returned as a September callup and threw an additional 4.2 innings, which didn't go quite as well as before. He finished up the 2009 season with 5.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 2 BB and 3 K.
And that may well be his major league career. It certainly was his White Sox career, as he stayed in the minors for all of the next two seasons. His command issues remained, as he was a bit too hittable. The walk rate was a bit too high. And the strikeout rate was a bit too low. Essentially, he's a guy who appears to have maxed out at AAA. As mentioned above, he was a minor league free agent this offseason and signed with the Rays.
Contribution: 5.2 innings of garbage time, below replacement level play.
Every year, there's a flavor of the month for the White Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Marquez played most of the AFL for the Yankees team. But he did get traded in time to make one start for the White Sox team. Kenny Williams supposedly saw the righty in the AFL, liked how he was allegedly a groundball pitcher and became so smitten with him that he just had to have him.
If you squinted hard enough, read his old scouting reports and generally ignored his results other than a 1.78 GO/AO in 2008, you probably could convince yourself that Marquez had a chance to be a major league baseball player. And he did sort of become one.
Just not immediately. In 2009, he missed the first few months of the season with bone chips in his elbow. When he came back, he really sucked. In 11 starts, he had an ERA just under 10.00. Per 9 innings, he gave up 14 hits, allowed 2.5 home runs, walked 4 while managing to strike out 5. Those are really bad rates.
In 2010, things were comparatively awesome. He threw 144.2 innings, gave up 160 hits, walked 49 and struck out 89. Which is still pretty bad. He got called up for one inning in July after Jake Peavy tore his lat. Essentially he was there because, hey, they didn't need Daniel Hudson to start a game for a few days so why not call up Marquez in the meantime. In that inning, Marquez gave up 2 runs in a blowout win over the Royals. He didn't get called up in September.
In 2011, he was supposedly in the competition for a spot in the rotation. Phil Humber ended that and, instead of keeping Marquez in the bullpen, the White Sox decided he would have been so useless that it would just be better to go with an 11 man pitching staff. Because he'd already been optioned three times, the White Sox had to put him on waivers. No one claimed him and he was outrighted to Charlotte.
He muddled along for a couple months at Charlotte until, on May 30, they called him up. He sat in the bullpen for a week, generally sitting and not pitching. Then Peavy got hurt again and the White Sox decided they needed a starter not named Jeff Marquez. So they designated him for assignment again. But this time, the nasty Yankees claimed him. Something which supposedly upset Kenny.
Contribution: 1 inning of garbage time, below replacement level play. A week of bullpen seat-warming. And let's not forget that $20,000 waiver claim.
White Sox total: 50 plate appearances of .200/.280/.311, 5 errors and 6.2 innings pitched with 8 runs allowed. $20,000. And some not insignificant bench and bullpen seat-warming.
Now for the Yankees side of the ledger.
Texeira spent 2009 at the Yankee's AA affiliate. They did not add him to their 40 man roster after the season and he was selected by the Mariners in the Rule 5 Draft. The Mariners put him on waivers after a couple months and the Royals claimed him. He spent the remainder of the 2010 season in their bullpen. As such, he never had to be returned to the Yankees.
Contribution: $50,000 for being drafted.
As predicted, thanks in part to BABIP regression, Swisher returned to his offensive norm in 2009. His line was .249/.371/.498 with a then career best wOBA of .375, while playing predominantly right field. Swisher also pitched a scoreless inning to finish a blowout loss to the Rays. The Yankees won the World Series but Swisher was mostly absent: 56 PA, 6 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 BB, 18 K. fWAR: 3.2; rWAR 3.3.
In 2010, Swisher was on the good side of the BABIP Luck Fairy, as he posted a career high of .335. This helped him to achieve arguably his best offensive season: .288/.359/.511 with a career best wOBA of .377. He showed up for the postseason this time - 28 PA, 6 H, 3 2B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 8 K - particularly against the Twins. Alas, the Yankees fell short of the title. fWAR: 4.1; rWAR 4.3
Despite his very good 2010, some were concerned prior to the 2011 season about his marked decline in walks. While his other underlying stats were within their norms or, in the case of BABIP, an outlier to the positive, his walk rate was only 9.1%. That was his worst season percentage in his career and well below his career average.
However, 2011 Nick Swisher looked a lot like how Nick Swisher has looked in all but one season since his second full season in 2006: .260/.374/.449 with a wOBA of .358. This was his age 30 season so he is arguably out of his prime. His slight decline appears to be the result of a career low .188 ISO, as his other underlying stats all were pretty much dead-on his career averages. He was pretty meh in the postseason - 20 PA, 4 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 K - as the Yankees again failed. fWAR: 3.8; rWAR 3.4.
During these three seasons, the Yankees paid him $21.05 million. According to fWAR, his production was worth about $47.6 million. And, of course, he has one season remaining on his contract. He'll be paid $10.25 million in 2012 and, so far, his projections suggest a bit of a bounce back in power and a bit of a drop in his on base skills. His fielding in right field hasn't shown any deterioration. He's probably a safe bet for 3+ WAR. Or well-worth his salary.
Contribution: 1877 plate appearances of .267/.368/.486; 123 OPS+; .370 wOBA. 11 fWAr; 11 rWAR. And 1 scoreless inning pitched.
Yankees total: Swisher's totals above plus $50,000.
In the famous words of Keith Law: You do the math.