Not long ago, it was considered a slam-dunk that the Yankees would pick up Nick Swisher's $10.25 million option for 2012, despite another miserable postseason performance.
Now, it's not so clear.
The reason? Carlos Beltran, a free agent after seven up-and-down, and mostly down, seasons with the Mets. Beltran is being shopped hard by his agent, Scott Boras, and his name came up in discussions at the Yankees organizational meeting in Tampa on Wednesday.
"He's on our list,'' said a team official who was present at the meeting. "But we have to make a decision on Swisher first.''
That is an ominous sign for Swisher and his agent, Dan Lozano, who during the season were given reason to believe the option would be picked up, although not before the Nov. 1 deadline. Now, it seems as if the Yankees front office is weighing one of three options -- pick up Swisher and forget Beltran, sign Beltran and forget Swisher, or sign Beltran, pick up Swisher's option and include him in a trade for a starting pitcher.
The similarities between the two players are striking. In 13 full seasons, Beltran's averages are .283/.361/.496 with 23 home runs and 88 RBIs; Swisher's are .254/.360/.466 with 26 HRs and 83 RBIs. Both are switch-hitters, although Beltran homers more frequently from the left side, which might make him more suited to Yankee Stadium's hitter-friendly right-field porch. And since Beltran lost his center field job to Angel Pagan last season, both are right-fielders, with Beltran considered easily the better fielder.
Two factors, however, work in Swisher's favor: His age (31 on Nov. 25; Beltran will turn 35 next April), and Beltran's injury history. Although he played in 142 games in 2011 between the Mets and San Francisco Giants, Beltran has not played a full season since 2008.