The Cleveland Indians' busiest, most productive offseason in years reached a crescendo with the recent signing of free agent outfielder Nick Swisher. The signing seems to indicate a significant shift in organizational philosophy. Swisher agreed to a four-year, $56 million contract, with an option for a fifth year, which, if vested, would bring the total value of the contract to $70 million.
That would make it the largest contract in Indians history, eclipsing designated hitter Travis Hafner's four-year, $57 million deal, which expired at the end of the 2012 season. The Swisher signing, moreover, appears to indicate that the Indians are prepared to be more financially aggressive in trying to improve the team.
For most of the Dolan family's ownership tenure, which dates to 2000, the policy has been against deficit spending. Ownership based its budget and payroll on revenue projections for the coming season. A large part of that revolved around the projected attendance for the upcoming season.
That approach has failed to move the team in a positive direction. The Indians largely have been spectators in most recent offseasons. As a result, the on-the-field product has suffered. The Indians in 2012 had a record of 68-94, marking the third time in the last four years they have lost 93 or more games.
The first indication that ownership was going to chart a different course in this offseason came with the signing of Terry Francona as the new manager. Francona, a proven winner and high-profile manager, unexpectedly fell into the Indians' lap after he let it be known he would be willing to come out of the ESPN broadcast booth to manage an Indians team being run by two executives, team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti, who are close personal friends of Francona.
The Indians signed Francona to a four-year contract, at an estimated $4 million per year. That's the most they have paid a manager, and it's made even more expensive given that the team is paying Manny Acta, fired at the end of last season, an estimated $1 million to not manage the team in 2013.
In the free-agent market this offseason, the Indians offered outfielder Shane Victorino a three-year, $44 million deal, which he turned down. The Indians responded by offering even more money and years to Swisher, who accepted.
Swisher will play right field and hit in the middle of the lineup, probably in the No. 4 spot. But beyond that, his presence on the roster is an indication that the Indians have decided to significantly increase their payroll, after years of refusing to compete for any of the big-ticket free agents.