03/14/12 4:52 PM ET
In his best shape, Swisher expecting results
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
The 31-year-old outfielder returned to the football-style workouts he used before the 2006 season. He improved his diet instead of "playing for the tie" between fitness and food like he'd always done. He started visiting a sports psychologist. He decided he wanted to be known as more than just a good clubhouse guy, too.
But the one change people are most curious about -- whether Swisher will be changing teams next offseason when he becomes a free agent -- is the one he's putting the least focus on.
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has publicly stated the team's desire to cut payroll down to the $189 million luxury tax threshold, which will likely mean cutting ties with potentially expensive players reaching free agency soon, including Curtis Granderson and Swisher. But Swisher, whose contract runs through the end of this season, isn't worried about next winter quite yet.
"To tell you the truth, I never even thought about it. I wouldn't even know how to think about it," said Swisher, who has never entered an arbitration season or contract year before in his eight-year career. "I know what type of player I am. I know the people that are supposedly 'comparables,' so I know where I stand. That's all I need to know. You're never going to hear me give years. You're never going to hear me give a number. That's not my style.
"I make great money. My wife makes great money. I've got a good life, man. I'm just excited to go out there and see what I'm capable of doing this year. At the end of the season this year, we'll all talk about it."
Swisher thinks he's capable of doing quite a bit in 2012. He made all those changes, because he wants to have a "monster breakout" year that will put him in a new class of players. He's had plenty of good seasons, but he believes he is ready to take a step beyond that.
Swisher certainly put in enough work. He trained with the Ohio State football team the offseason before he hit 35 homers with Oakland in 2006, and he went back to those power-oriented, fast-twitch workouts in Westlake, Calif. The energy in those sessions clicked with Swisher's personality -- and his inner desire to be a football player, he laughed -- and he enjoyed the way he was challenged there, saying he'd never worked out like that before.
"I think guys learn over time what it takes, what you need to do in the winter," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think as you get older in a sense, a lot of times you have to work harder because your body just doesn't recover the same. It's just different. I think guys learn all the time."
The results from those workouts have been easy to see, as Girardi noticed early on this spring.
"I think you could say he looks quicker, stronger and faster," Girardi said. "I watch him run the bases, and I think he gets around the bases better. I watch him in the outfield and I watched him play first base the other day. He has swung the bat well. I think you could say all those things."
The right fielder also whipped himself into shape by eating better. He said he had never focused on that, instead working as hard as possible in the gym just so he could eat whatever he wanted. But he started paying attention to nutrition, and that was when he truly noticed his body changing.
But as Swisher acknowledged, there are plenty of players in every clubhouse every Spring Training who are supposedly in the best shape of their lives. The reason Swisher believes he's now better prepared for a big year is what he accomplished in his visits to a sports psychologist.
Many professional athletes reach out to a sports psychologist when they're dealing with some sort of problem, but Swisher laughed, saying he didn't think there was anything wrong with him before. No, he just wanted to find another way to separate himself from the rest of the pack.
"I think your mind is that one thing that can maybe take you to that next level," he said. "I feel like I'm on the brink of that next level, and that's where I want to be. I just figured I'd do that. I've come in here, been a lot more relaxed, a lot more focused and it's really paying off for me so far."
"Relaxed" is hardly the first word that comes to mind when you think of Swisher, and he admits he will still be his usual energetic self once he gets on the field, but he wants to be viewed as more than just a good presence in the clubhouse.
Swisher has been remarkably healthy and consistent in his career, playing more than 150 games and hitting more than 22 home runs each of the past six seasons. But he doesn't have any specific goals in mind next season -- just that he wants to reach whatever that next level may be.
"I want to be known as a good ballplayer," he said. "There's a lot more to me than just a good clubhouse guy. That's the statement I'm trying to make this year, and we'll just kind of go from there."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.