NEW YORK -- That patch of grass out there in right field at Yankee Stadium, where the giant Aaron Judge will once again roam during Game 3 of the Division Series presented by Doosan tonight? That used to be Nick Swisher's turf.
From 2009-12, Swisher was a pretty productive presence in that Yankee lineup, with 105 homers, 134 doubles, an .850 OPS and countless utterances of "awesome" and "bro." Swisher's enthusiasm and output was, by and large, a very good thing for the Bronx Bombers.
But in a funny twist of fate, Swish's greatest contribution to the Yanks might end up being Judge himself. And it's their October opponent, the Indians, who unwittingly supported the "swap."
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Judge, you see, was taken out of Fresno State with the No. 32 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft -- a pick the Yankees had received as compensation when Swisher signed with the Tribe as a free agent before the 2013 season.
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"Cash [Yankees general manager Brian Cashman] showed some confidence in the scouting department and the process that we're involved in," said Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, "to let a Major League player with really high value leave, hoping we would turn it into something that had as much or more value."
Now, before you jump to conclusions, no, had the Indians not signed Swisher (or, for that matter, Michael Bourn, another free-agent foray that cost them a pick that winter), they still wouldn't have landed Judge, a viable 2017 AL MVP candidate and as obvious an AL Rookie of the Year choice as any in the history of the honor. The Indians didn't directly surrender No. 32. The pick they gave up was in the second round. So Judge likely would not have fallen to them, though they did like him.
"One of our scouts liked him over [No. 1 overall pick Mark] Appel, which is crazy to think about," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "It's not necessarily how we had him on our board, but one of our scouts felt strongly about it. There were some questions about his size, but he also did a lot of things really well, and he was renowned for having a great makeup."
Judge's 6-foot-7 frame in a game in which very few position players of that size have logged meaningful careers (Frank Howard, Richie Sexson and Tony Clark are the extent of the list) made him an unknown, even by baseball Draft standards.
"People have a hard time dealing with things outside the norm when it comes to scouting in baseball," Oppenheimer said. "That's why the [Jose] Altuves of the world and Judges of the world aren't always the consensus."
Judge wasn't even the Yankees' first choice in that general realm of selections in 2013. This is where the since-altered compensation system came into play. The Yankees' "real" pick in that Draft was at No. 26. They gained No. 32 because of the Swisher signing and No. 33 because reliever Rafael Soriano signed with the Nationals.
This proliferation of picks made it easier for the Yanks to take the calculated gamble on Judge.
With No. 26, they went with the seemingly safer selection of Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo (who would later become fodder in the trade with the Reds for Albertin Chapman). Then they nervously watched and waited through five more picks (Phillip Ervin to the Reds, Rob Kaminsky to the Cardinals, Ryne Stanek to the Rays, Travis Demeritte to the Rangers and Jason Hursh to the Braves) before, finally, Judge was sitting there waiting for them at No. 32. They took left-hander Ian Clarkin, who was later utilized in the trade for Player Page for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier, with the following compensation pick for Soriano.
"It's always nice to have the opportunity of multiple picks," Oppenheimer said. "But I think our process of evaluation and the depth of the evaluation gave us the comfort level [to pick Judge]."
It has been pointed out how strange it is that, in this Division Series, it is the Indians who are the established AL elite and it is the Yankees who are, basically, the up-and-coming underdogs. But really, that offseason of 2012-13 represents how the role reversal runs deep, because the Indians' investment in Swisher was part of the grand-scale remodel that took place when Terry Francona came aboard that winter. The Indians had a protected pick at No. 5 overall (they went with Clint Frazier, who would, of course, become a key piece in the blockbuster trade with the Yankees for Andrew Miller), which made giving up the second-rounder easier to swallow.
For the Yankees, this was the beginning of a period of building from the ground up. The top-heavy payroll plan was no longer paying World Series dividends for the club, and Judge now stands as the cream of a deep and talented system.
"In terms of the international department and what the guys in New York are doing with trades and waiver claims, the whole thing is coming together like it should," Oppenheimer said. "We're working together well."
Clearly, the Swisher compensation pick worked out well. As dictated by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the compensation system is about to see a major change this winter. No longer will teams like the Yankees, who pay rather than receive revenue sharing, be eligible to reap a pick in the first round. The earliest these teams can receive compensation is after Competitive Balance Round B, which itself takes place after the second round. And that's only if the team was under the luxury tax threshold.
In other words, it's a good thing the Yankees got Judge when they could. It still remains to be seen if he'll have a say in beating the Indians on this October stage. But in a strange way, Nick Swisher and the Indians helped put him in pinstripes.