Swanson better prepared for second time around with Cubs

All-Star shortstop looking to provide veteran leadership after challenging 2023 season

February 21st, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- is entering his ninth season in the big leagues and his second year as one of the faces of the Cubs’ new core. In conversations with manager Craig Counsell, the veteran shortstop has concluded that his voice will carry heightened importance in the campaign ahead.

“The realization I've come to talking to Counse,” Swanson said, “is like, ‘I’m the old guy now.’”

It really only feels that way for Swanson inside Chicago’s clubhouse, where a substantial part of the roster consists of younger core pieces and prospects learning their way. And now that Swanson is through all the newness of his move to Chicago, and has formed relationships, leadership can flow out of the familiarity and comfort.

Swanson also believes he will be better for the many challenges that tested him on and off the field in his first tour with the Cubs.

Not only was there the pressure of signing a seven-year, $177 million contract, the shortstop had to learn a new city and team. His wife, Mallory -- a star for the U.S. women’s national soccer team and the Chicago Red Stars -- dealt with a serious knee injury.

After playing in all but one game in the previous three years combined, Swanson was limited to 147 games due to a frustrating heel setback. And in September, the Cubs fell out of contention.

“When you look at everything, I mean, it was a really difficult year, personally,” Swanson said. “It was just challenging. And at the end of the day, really, I fought about as hard as I've fought in a long time. And I kind of see that as personal success in a certain way, because it's gonna help shape me for things ahead.”

It is worth noting that Swanson tends to be his own harshest critic.

“I’m not too graceful with myself,” he admitted.

Swanson picked up his second Gold Glove Award in a row after leading all shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved (18) and tying for the MLB lead in Outs Above Average (20) for any position. He made the National League All-Star team and ended with 22 homers, 25 doubles, 80 RBIs and 81 runs scored in his first season for the Cubs.

In the batter’s box, Swanson cut his strikeout rate down to 24.1% after posting a 26.1% rate in ‘22 for the Braves. He was more disciplined when it came to pitches out of the zone, leading to an impressive improvement in walk rate (10.3% in ‘23 compared to 7.0% in ‘22). He finished with 4.9 fWAR and 4.8 bWAR, receiving down-ballot MVP votes for his work.

Swanson did all that as he “fought” through all the peripheral noise.

“He's a very strong player mentally and able to handle things like that,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “All of us benefit from things in our life being lined up and having a sense of home and comfort. Hopefully for him, this year is just another step towards that.”

Hoerner added that there is “already a different feeling” along those lines in Spring Training.

Counsell knows that Swanson prides himself on staying on the field as much as possible -- evidenced by the shortstop playing in 382 of 383 regular-season games across ‘20-22. But the manager said that will be an ongoing conversation throughout the season, as Counsell monitors player health and looks for opportunities to provide rest.

“I know Dansby likes to play,” Counsell said. “And that's a great place to start from, is how I just see it. I think it's really hard to make decisions on that right now. Dansby's the guy we want to play shortstop, so let the season tell us that and we know he's capable of it.”

Counsell also knows Swanson is more than capable of embracing being an important voice of leadership behind the scenes.

“Dansby gets that and he wants that,” Counsell said. “And I also think it's Year 2 here, which is helpful for him, too. It's hard walking in the door doing that. You're more comfortable doing it when you're comfortable with a lot of the people around you.”

Counsell cracked a smile when told of Swanson feeling like the “old guy” now.

“He’s 30. He’s old,” the manager quipped.

Swanson pointed out that he does not have any additional gray hairs since celebrating his latest birthday. All joking aside, the shortstop is ready to turn the page on last season and embracing the new challenges that 2024 will present.

“Every year is different. Every offseason is different. Every season is different,” Swanson said. “We've got a new group of guys. I think at the end of the day, it all comes down to communication. It all comes down to that connection and communication to make sure everyone's on the same page.

“And the only way to grow is to be honest with one another and be able to set a standard for what we expect here.”