Nick Swisher has lots of experience facing the Toronto Blue Jays.
Now entering his 10th season as an American League player, the 32-year-old has faced the Blue Jays more often than he has faced any other team — 107 games in total after Wednesday night.
Like many players around MLB, the Cleveland Indians first baseman watched the Blue Jays’ busy off-season with interest. He says he views this edition of the Blue Jays differently than he viewed past Toronto teams.
“I think before when you think about the Blue Jays, you go into Toronto playing a three-game series you want to get all three,” Swisher said. “Now you come in here and you say to yourself, ‘man let’s scratch out one or two,’ because they’ve got a great team. I think for a team that kind of in a sense used to be one of the unheard of teams are definitely heard of now.”
Swisher heard a steady chorus of boos every time he stepped in against the Blue Jays Tuesday and Wednesday, the result of years in pinstripes and 14 career home runs against Toronto pitching. While fans of the 0-2 Blue Jays are far from welcoming to the longtime Yankees outfielder, many would agree with his assessment of the Blue Jays’ busy winter.
“They were one of those headline teams this off-season, man. They made a ton of moves, and they brought over some serious talent,” he said. “It’s crazy to see -- the first game of the season -- and I saw the headlines in the paper that were like ‘letdown.’ I thought, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, man.’”
On the eve of the 2013 season, Jason Giambi had similar words of praise for the Blue Jays.
“That’s a great team. They really put together a powerhouse over there. It’ll be fun to see them,” he said. “Adding to (Jose) Bautista and the rest of the guys -- wow, it’s going to be exciting to watch and we know they’re a good ballclub so we just want to play well and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Dominated by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for years, the American League East now includes a variety of possible contenders. The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays were afterthoughts for years, but are now coming off seasons of 90-plus wins.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are beginning the season with a depleted roster after injuries to prominent players including Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Swisher, who played for the Yankees for four seasons before signing in Cleveland for $56 million last winter, expects New York to contend nevertheless.
“I don’t know man, there’s a mystique about the Yankees and somehow they just find a way to get it done,” he said. “I think just getting out of the gate they really need some guys to step up, because all of their big boys are on the bench right now. That’s a tough start to the season.”
Much like the Blue Jays, the Indians spent aggressively on new players after operating frugally in recent years. Swisher expects these moves will propel the team into contention after a 94-loss season.
“I think 2013 is going to be a different attitude here in Cleveland, man,” Swisher said. “You forget about all the past that happened before, man. Every year is different. Every year is unique in itself. There’s always a couple teams that really surprise a lot of those people and we hope to be one of those teams.”
Giambi, a member of eight different playoff teams, made it clear that the Indians aim to contend in 2013.
“Especially after the Dolan family and Chris Antonetti, the GM, went out and, especially after a tough season last year when they lost 94 games, we bring in a lot of these new faces that give us the chance to win and we want to push to try to get in the playoffs, no doubt.”
Indeed, the American League is flush with would-be contenders. Every team outside of Houston and Minneapolis has a chance at competing if enough breaks right.
Swisher, an American League pennant winner with the 2009 Yankees, even has a prediction for the upcoming season.
“Who do I think’s going to win the American League?” he asked with a laugh, “the Cleveland Indians.”