LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Braves bit the financial bullet and released veteran outfielder Nick Swisher, whom they owe $15 million in 2016 in the final year of his contract.
It’s the second-largest amount the Braves have eaten in dumping a contract, topped only by more than $18 million they owed Dan Uggla for the final 1 ½ years of his contract when they released him in July 2014.
If another team signs Swisher, they can pay him a prorated portion of the major league-minimum $507,500 salary for any time spent in the big leagues, and the Braves will owe the remainder of the $15 million.
Swisher, 35, hit .196 with six homers and and a .631 OPS in 260 plate appearances last season for Cleveland and Atlanta, including .195 (23-for-118) with four homers and 17 RBIs in 46 games for the Braves after coming from the Indians with outfielder Michael Bourn in an an Aug. 7 trade for third baseman Chris Johnson.
“I respect the hell out of him and what he’s done,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “but just looking into the dynamics of the way the team was going to be built, it would be tough to carry him. It’s one of those things, when you have that type of player, it would help you to be in the American League. That’s when you wish you were in the American League so you could give him all the at-bats he wants or needs or deserves.”
In 17 games this spring, Swisher hit .238 (10-for-42) with three doubles, eight walks and a .360 OBP and .310 slugging percentage.
The Braves get nearly $15 million in cash from the Indians as part of that deal to cover the difference in what was still owed on the contracts of Johnson, who was signed through 2017, and Swisher and Bourn.
Bourn is owed $14 million this season and seems likely to get one of the two Braves backup outfield jobs, along with either Jeff Francoeur or Emilio Bonifacio, barring a late trade.
Due to advancing age and balky knees, Swisher has been a bust since signing a four-year, $56 million contract with the Cleveland in his native Ohio before the 2013 season.
He hit .268 with 105 home runs, 349 RBIs, a .367 OBP and .483 slugging percentage in 598 games during the 2009-2012 seasons with the Yankees to get that big contract with the Indians at age 32.
In three seasons since signing the deal, he’s hit .224 with 36 homers, 130 RBIs, a .315 OBP and .373 slugging percentage in 318 games.
Swisher had surgery on both knees on the same day in August 2014, and played last season with bulky knee braces after returning from a long stint on the disabled list. He was able to shed the braces this spring and said upon reporting for camp that he was excited to be able to run around and ready to show he could be a productive hitter again.
But the speed and power that he had in his Yankees years was not at all evident in spring training, and his first-base defense wasn’t good enough to warrant carrying him as a backup to Freddie Freeman.
The Braves could use versatile Kelly Johnson as a one-game backup for Freeman, and in trading for Nationals first baseman/corner outfielder Tyler Moore on Sunday they acquired what they believe to be a suitable first-base backup if need for a longer stint. Moore will be at Triple-A.