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Richard Justice

Can a rough October hinder payday for free agents?

Justice: Are playoff struggles a red flag for GMs?

Can a rough October hinder payday for free agents?
Nick Swisher was a huge part of everything the Yankees accomplished this season. First, there were the things that can be measured.

That's the easy part in all of this. Swisher had 24 home runs, 36 doubles and 77 walks. He hit in six different spots in the batting order and had a .301 batting average with runners in scoring position.

He had a knack for delivering at the right time: six of his last 12 home runs gave the Yankees a lead.

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Parts of Swisher's game are harder to measure. He brought noise and emotion and attitude to a clubhouse that prides itself on its cool professionalism. Swisher laughed loudly and never seemed to have a bad day.

In four seasons with the Yankees, he averaged 150 games and 26 home runs. He had a career .850 OPS during those four years. He's also one of baseball's more interesting free agents this season, and at 31, figures to land a nice payday.

There's just one negative. That is, Swisher batted .167 during the postseason. He had just two extra-base hits in 30 at-bats and was going so badly in the American League Championship Series against the Tigers that Yankees manager Joe Girardi benched him for Game 3.

So the question every general manager considering Swisher must ask themselves is this: Can a solid six months be wiped out by a poor finish?

There's some more history. Swisher hit .211 in five 2011 postseason games and .176 in nine games in 2010. In 46 postseason games, his batting average is .169, which is almost 100 points (.256) below his career batting average.

How to factor postseason performances -- both good ones and bad ones -- into a team evaluation of a player is one of the most difficult decisions general managers face. There doesn't appear to be a consensus.

Some GMs say they simply factor it into the whole season. They point out that postseason numbers sometimes suffer because of the quality of pitching a team is facing.

Still, others saw consistently poor postseason numbers factor into evaluations. Strategies that got a player out in a postseason series will be the same ones he will face regularly in the future.

Still, Swisher's numbers are not a fluke. For four years, he delivered again and again for the Yankees. It's just that the October numbers are so glaring, especially for a franchise that measures everything in terms of winning championships.

Swisher is one of several prominent players entering free agency fresh off poor postseason performances. In every case, general managers will be attempting to consider whether there were warning signs that preceded the poor October performance, or if they were simply random and need to be factored into the ebbs and flows of a long season.

Angel Pagan, Jose Valverde and Edwin Jackson are three other prominent players who endured some troubles in October after serviceable regular seasons. Pagan was such a catalyst at the top of the order in getting the Giants into the postseason that it seems unlikely he will suffer financially. Likewise, Jackson made just two postseason starts after a season in which he pitched 189 innings and had a 4.03 ERA.

And there's Adam LaRoche. He was a huge part of what the Washington Nationals accomplished this season. First, he was probably the most respected player in the clubhouse, one of the guys who helped keep things focused in the right direction. Second, he had a terrific season, hitting 33 home runs, driving in 100 runs and winning an NL Gold Glove Award.

At 33, he proved himself all over again, showing that when healthy he's one of the best first basemen in the game. LaRoche would be a nice fit in a bunch of places, including Boston, where he might be exactly what the Red Sox need -- both in the lineup and the clubhouse.

There's just one small column on his resume that might prompt a general manager to take a deep breath before throwing a two- or three-year contract in LaRoche's direction. Some general managers may consider it a big deal, others not at all.

LaRoche batted just .176 in the Nationals' five-game NL Division Series loss to the Cardinals. There doesn't seem to be any way five games will impact LaRoche's value on the market, especially since he was solid in the 2004-05 playoffs with the Braves.

But with millions of dollars on the line, everything matters. Little things. Big things. Suddenly, every general manager will be going back through his scouting reports and his video to reevaluate a player coming off a poor October.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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