Braves lose Swanson to Cubs in free agency

Beloved hometown mainstay leaves club with big hole to fill at shortstop

December 18th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Thoughts of Dansby Swanson returning to Atlanta began to evaporate as this offseason’s earliest weeks began to unfold. They were completely erased on Saturday when Swanson agreed to a seven-year, $177 million deal with the Cubs.

Now, the Braves will need to find a shortstop for the first time since 2016. Earlier this year, Swanson joined Rafael Ramirez as the only players in Atlanta history to make six consecutive Opening Day starts as the Braves’ shortstop.

The Braves could opt to find Swanson’s replacement via trade or use one of their two internal options, Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia. The free-agent market is thin at the shortstop position. One of the top options is Elvis Andrus, the Braves’ top prospect when Freddie Freeman joined Atlanta’s organization as a wide-eyed 17-year-old in 2007.

Speaking of Freeman, many Braves fans compared his departure last winter to the one Swanson is making this year. They were two of the team’s most beloved players. But neither got their wish to stay in Atlanta as long as possible.

After playing a little more than six seasons with his hometown team, Swanson will now extend his career in the Windy City. The 28-year-old helped the Braves win five consecutive National League East titles and one World Series. But what he’ll likely most treasure was the opportunity to do all of this just a short distance from where he was raised.

Though he made his MLB debut at Turner Field in August 2016, Swanson spent the majority of his career within Truist Park, about 15 minutes south of Marietta, where he grew up rooting for the Braves, Hawks and Falcons.

Swanson’s wish to continue playing for the Braves began to disintegrate as the club remained quiet following the 2022 season. Atlanta offered a six-year, $100 million deal around the All-Star break and didn't extend negotiations once it was rejected.

Swanson called Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos a couple of weeks ago, hoping to spark some dialogue. But it soon became clear that the Cubs, Red Sox and Twins were the teams most interested in him.

When Carlos Correa gained a 13-year, $350 million deal with the Giants late Tuesday, Swanson stood as the last of this offseason’s elite free-agent shortstops to remain unsigned. Trea Turner got an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies on Dec. 5 and Xander Bogaerts gained an 11-year, $280 million deal from the Padres one day later.

Swanson didn’t get the same level of riches, but he gained far more than he could have envisioned before enjoying a career-best season this year.

Swanson positioned himself for a hefty payday as he ranked second among all MLB shortstops with a 6.4 fWAR this year, trailing only the Mets’ Francisco Lindor (6.8). Swanson also ranked 11th among all MLB players with this mark.

As Swanson’s offensive game improved over the past two years, he has established himself as one of the game’s top players. He hit a career-high 27 homers in 2021, and he ranked fourth among shortstops with 25 homers in '22.

Swanson has produced a respectable .768 OPS over the past two seasons. But his glove remains his greatest asset: He led the NL this year with 21.4 Defensive Wins Above Average per FanGraph’s model. Lindor (16.1) ranked second among shortstops.

Swanson’s 21 Outs Above Average ranked second among all qualified MLB players, trailing only Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop (27). The Cubs’ Nico Hoerner and Lindor ranked second among MLB shortstops with 13 OAA.