In 2015, Dansby Swanson entered the big leagues as the No. 1 overall draft pick with high marks for his glove work and ability to hit the line. As it turned out, it would take Swanson seven years to record an All-Star season and become one of the best shortstops in the game.
Now exploring free agency at age 28, Swanson has become the consistent, experienced athlete we’ve been waiting for. The question is: Does Swanson’s improved value put him in the conversation of franchise running backs?
The Atlanta Braves have given this question a lot of thought, and it’s increasingly looking like the organization’s answer is that Swanson could become their franchise shortstop, but he’s not there yet. As such, the Braves would be willing to retain Swanson at the right price, but maybe not at the higher price Swanson’s free agency may come down to how much money he’s willing to give up to stay in Atlanta.
So Swanson, a native of Kennesaw, Ga. who came up through the ranks in Atlanta and has spent seven seasons playing for his favorite childhood team, is fielding other offers. The timing of Swanson’s free agency means he’s not at the top of the list for opposing teams. But the career-best season Swanson just put together means he would still be a welcome addition to one of several teams looking to fill a hole at shortstop this winter. And one of those several teams will pay more than $100 million to land him.
Swanson entered free agency this offseason in a class rich with elite shortstops, including Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts. Swanson is projected to receive the most moderate long-term deal among the shortstops in this year’s free agency pool, with industry insiders suggesting his breakout 2022 season demands $20-25 million or more for five or six years.
The Braves and other top contenders certainly value Swanson’s defense; his 21 strikeouts last season were the most among any MLB shortstop, leading to his first career Gold Glove this year. His 6.4 fWAR trails only Francisco Lindor (6.8 fWAR) among major league shortstops.
“He’s become an incredible player,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said at the GM meetings this month. “Maybe he’s the best defensive shortstop in the game with the work he’s done.”
On the other side of the ball, Swanson’s 26.1% strikeout rate was the third-highest among all shortstops, even higher than the infamous swing-happy Javier Baez, who posted a rate of fourth of inns higher than 24.9%. And while Swanson just posted back-to-back 25-homer seasons, his .776 OPS last season isn’t nearly as eye-catching as those posted by Correa (.834), Bogaerts (.833) and Turner (.809). While there’s no denying that Swanson, offensively, isn’t in the same class as Correa, Bogaerts, and Turner, Swanson’s 116 wRC+ indicates that he was still 16% better at the plate than the average MLB hitter.
In a vacuum, Swanson’s still-bland offense suggests the Braves can find a better bat via free agency this offseason by letting him walk and instead go for one of those top three shortstops. Signing Correa would be the smartest move, while signing Turner, who reportedly wants to leave Los Angeles for an East Coast team, would also make sense for the Braves. But for now, Atlanta is looking for home.
Those hoping for a Swanson-Braves reunion received some inauspicious news last week when The Athletic reported that Atlanta has already begun preparing its rookie standout, Vaughn Grissom, to transition to the team’s shortstop spot.
Grissom, who played primarily shortstop in the minors but was called up to play second base, posted a 121 OPS+ in 41 games with the Braves following his mid-August promotion to the big leagues. This winter in New Orleans, Grissom is working out under the supervision of Braves third base coach Ron Washington, who is considered one of the best outfield instructors in the game. And Washington, according to the report, recently told Anthopolous he could get Grissom ready to play full-time in spring training.
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“I don’t think Swanson is replaceable unless they go after a superstar,” Washington told The Athletic. “But we can handle the position. We’ve got (Orlando) Arcia, and we’ve got Grissom, that kid is getting better every day. I’m telling you, he’s getting a lot better.”
Swanson’s strength lies in his aforementioned defense, but also in his durability.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound shortstop’s 362 games played are the most in MLB since the start of 2020. He led the league during his 2022 All-Star season by playing in all 162 games. He finished 12th in this year’s National League MVP voting, with 23 total votes. Unlike Correa and his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Swanson comes with no baggage. At 28, he’s a few months older than Correa, but younger than Turner and Bogaerts, and is certainly playing in his prime. Swanson’s ability to post up, make big plays and get big hits helped lead the Braves to their 2021 championship, and he would instantly become an integral part of any other top contender’s roster.
The Dodgers, with former teammate Freddie Freeman manning first base, would be a good fit for Swanson should Turner leave Hollywood. Other teams in need of a shortstop or who already have one that could come out and pay for Swanson include the Cubs, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels and Phillies, to name just a handful among a larger pool of interested suitors. .
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As things stand today, it looks more and more like Swanson’s offense will never justify his first overall draft pick, especially considering Alex Bregman was selected second overall in the 2015 draft .But Swanson has always seemed destined for stardom. His 2022 season has shown that his defense is more than tolerable; it is remarkable His overall makeup includes being reliable on the field and uncontroversial off the field.
It looks like Swanson’s first experience in free agency will see teams offering more money than the Braves are willing to commit to their seven-year shortstop. What he decides to do next will determine whether he becomes a franchise shortstop for the team he grew up rooting for, or whether he tries to fill that role elsewhere. But one thing is clear: The Braves are allowing Swanson to be charmed by better offers. And I could only take another team in one.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @Deesha Thosar.
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