Swihart. (Getty Images)
Two American League division favorites designated a potentially useful bat for assignment in the last couple days. If the Yankees were fully or nearly healthy and performing, there wouldn’t be a role for either Blake Swihart or Brad Miller. The 2019 Yankees, however, may have the room for another offensive player.
So let’s see how Swihart and Miller stack up and could fit for the Yankees:
Despite an OK start at the plate, catcher/utility man Blake Swihart was DFA’d by the Red Sox on Tuesday before the first Yankees-Sox game of the season. Swihart has been in no man’s land for the last year, out of options but without a clear path to playing time despite the promise in his bat.
The 27-year-old backstop ranked 17th in Baseball America’s prospect rankings before the 2015 season (18th by MLB Pipeline) and it was his third time in BA’s rankings. Swihart looked like he could be a switch-hitting catcher who could be the full package on both sides of the ball. He was the No. 1 Red Sox prospect and No. 1 catching prospect in all of baseball.
After five seasons of getting jerked into different roles, Swihart finally got some semblance of normalcy as the backup catcher this season. He had six hits in his first 12 at-bats before an 0-for-14 skid ended his time in Boston.
His 88.3 mph exit velocity is right around league average, though his .364 xwOBA and 42.1 percent hard-hit rate indicates there may be more in his bat. He strikes out about a fourth of the time while sporting a walk rate near seven. Despite his switch-hitting, he should be a strict platoon bat as he fails to hit near average against left-handed pitching.
His defense leaves something to be desired. He has gotten better as a pitch framer and is league average, but Boston chose to upgrade defensively with Sandy Leon.
If we were a little later in the year, the Yankees’ poor record could help them in waiver priority, but as we are still in the first 30 days of the season, waivers go by last year’s standings. Oh well. There are enough team with questionable catching situations and the opportunity to let Swihart sink or swim that he should be claimed if the Red Sox can’t find a trade suitor.
Boston isn’t trading him to the Yankees. It’s not a tremendous loss, as the Bombers with a fully healthy Gary Sanchez don’t have a spot for him. If Sanchez were to miss an extended period, Swihart would be an upgrade over Kyle Higashioka at the plate and could enter into a platoon with Austin Romine. No, he’s not an improvement on Romine, at least not based on what he’s shown in the majors thus far. It’s a pipe dream that he’d join the Yankees, but hey, it’s not the craziest thing to happen.
Miller. (Getty Images)
Miller, on the other hand, could actually find his way to pinstripes. That’s just my speculating — there hasn’t been reported interest on the Yankees’ part as of now — but the veteran infielder would be a temporary improvement for New York’s lineup.
The Indians DFA’d Miller with Jason Kipnis getting healthy, though Cleveland also did it in order to only give Miller the prorated portion of his $1 million contract instead of fully guaranteeing it by rostering him for a few more weeks. Miller’s 97 OPS+ and .742 OPS ranked third for the Indians’ paltry offense.
Cleveland was playing Miller at second base — he’s played everywhere on the infield in his career — but the Yankees wouldn’t have a need for him there. He doesn’t have the glove to man the middle infield all that well and is best confined to first base. He’s three years removed from hitting 30 homers for the Rays as a poor fielding shortstop.
Well, the Yankees have an opening at first. Greg Bird’s injury led to a call-up for Mike Ford, who has the potential to catch fire for a little while but is unlikely to last. Miller, meanwhile, has been a near-league-average hitter with some pop and has played a passable first base in his career. That’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s an improvement over Bird’s lackluster season.
Miller would be available for $1 million via waivers or near league minimum in free agency and there aren’t many suitors for his services outside of the Yankees. There are enough DH at-bats (or first base ABs if you place Luke Voit at DH) free until the Yankees’ get healthy that he’d have a role right away.
There’s no need to wait for him to get back like another free agent signing. If he doesn’t hit or enough of Hicks/Stanton/Andujar/Sanchez get healthy, Miller could be jettisoned as quickly as he came in. But he does provide some upside as a former 30-home run hitter who does just enough with the bat to justify his lack of glove.