Without Nick Swisher's Departure, the Yankees Wouldn't Have Drafted Aaron Judge
Seven years ago Saturday, the Yankees drafted Aaron Judge with the No. 32 overall selection in the 2013 MLB Draft.
It didn't take long for the slugging outfielder from Fresno State to prove his worth within the Yankees organization. In just a few years, Judge quickly climbed through New York's farm system, making his big-league debut in the summer of 2016 before ascending to stardom as a rookie the following season.
Looking back, picking Judge in 2013 is not only the Yankees' best draft pick of the 21st century, but one of the best in franchise history.
That said, what if he never was able to don pinstripes on draft day in the first place? It took the departure of an All-Star outfielder and fan favorite to open the door for Judge's tenure with the Bombers to begin.
The Yankees' only traditional first-round draft pick in 2013 came at No. 26. After free agency, however, the Bombers added picks No. 32 and 33 to their draft board.
Why? With the departure of Nick Swisher and his exuberant personality to Cleveland and closer Rafael Soriano to Washington, New York acquired those two respective selections as compensation.
That's right, if the Yankees had re-signed Swisher after the 2012 season, No. 99 wouldn't be a Yankee.
Before diving into the specifics of this franchise-altering pick, this MLB Draft jargon warrants clarification. Had Swisher remained in New York that winter, the Indians wouldn't have necessarily ended up with Judge at pick No. 32. Don't think of this as a trade, per se. It was just a way to repay the team that had lost a player in free agency.
It's a good thing the Yankees were able to draft Judge when they did. The process of MLB Draft compensation was revamped a few winters ago, right after Judge was picked up by the Bombers. Now, far more goes into who is able to receive a compensatory selection. Plus, the team that misses out in free agency won't get the pick until Competitive Balance Round B, which is held after the draft's second round rather than at the tail end of the first, when New York picked Judge.
Take Gerrit Cole signing with New York this winter as a similar example. New York reels in the free agent, allowing the Astros to receive a compensatory pick – Houston will be on the clock when it comes time for the No. 72 pick while the Yankees forfeited its second and fifth-round selections.
Got it? Alright, back to 2013.
New York picked Eric Jagielo at No. 26 – a third baseman from Notre Dame – to lead off three first-round picks. Jagielo wound up a key component in the trade that sent Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds to the Bronx in 2015. He has yet to make his Major League debut.
What came next were some anxiety-ridden moments for the organization as Yankees personnel waited for five players to come off the board. When Judge was still available at No. 32, New York pounced.
In a way, it was the amount of picks at New York's disposal that led to Judge's selection. With back-to-back picks to close out the first round, it allowed for the Yankees to make a risky pick as players of Judge's stature – listed at 6-foot-7 – don't always pan out.
With the following pick, New York added Ian Clarkin, a high school southpaw. Similar to Jagielo, Clarkin's time in the Yankees farm system ended in a blockbuster trade. The left-hander was sent to the White Sox in 2017 in the deal for Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.
Also in that trade with Chicago was outfielder Blake Rutherford, another first-round pick from the last decade that New York wishes they could have back.
As for Swisher, even after four solid seasons in pinstripes, his biggest contribution to the Yankees organization may very well have been saying goodbye.
The switch-hitting outfielder was part of the Yankees 2009 World Series championship roster and made the All-Star Game in 2010 (for the first and only time in his 12-year career). Through four years with the Bombers, Swisher posted a .268 average with 105 home runs and an .850 OPS, the best production of his career.
Swisher's numbers dropped off significantly once he signed with Cleveland. After two full seasons in an Indians uniform, he was traded to Atlanta before he made his final big-league appearance at the end of the 2015 campaign.
Cleveland surely felt better about the 2013 MLB Draft in the short term. After all, even as Judge developed into the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year in the Yankees' system, they still had their top selection from the same draft.
Outfielder Clint Frazier was picked fifth overall in 2013 by the Indians. As it turns out, after the Andrew Miller trade in 2016, Frazier was destined for pinstripes as well.
When Judge made his triumphant debut in pinstripes, New York had begun its transition from missing the playoffs in three out of four years – for the first time in over two decades – to solidifying its reputation as a perennial World Series contender.
Only time will tell if Judge, like Swisher in '09, will one day bring a championship back to the Bronx.
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