PHILADELPHIA -- Every time a Braves player said they couldn’t imagine Dansby Swanson wearing another uniform, it was impossible to overlook that they were saying the same thing about Freddie Freeman around this same time last year.
As the Braves’ season ended with an 8-3 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, thoughts of Swanson’s future became a focus. He is eligible for free agency next month, so there is a chance Atlanta's starting shortstop for the past six seasons just played his final game for his hometown team.
“That’s the last thing on my mind,” Swanson said, as he bid adieu to a memorable season and a forgettable postseason.
For Swanson, this year and especially this week were all about winning a second straight World Series title. But as the sting begins to disappear, he’ll start to worry more about his uncertain future. The suburban Atlanta native has been the Braves’ starting shortstop since August 2016, and Truist Park is located about 8 miles from where he went to high school.
Few love the Falcons, Hawks and all things Atlanta as much as Swanson. But time will tell whether he’ll continue to play in his hometown.
“I think he’s the captain of this team,” Braves veteran pitcher Charlie Morton said. “I think he’s part of the heart and soul of this team in the clubhouse and the culture here. It’s hard to watch that [ninth-inning] at-bat thinking it could be his last in an Atlanta uniform. I know how much the city, the organization and his teammates mean to him.”
As Morton spoke, a distraught Swanson sat across the room trying to hide his pain. His 2-for-16 performance in the NLDS contributed to the sour taste he felt at the end of a memorable year. Swanson earned his first All-Star selection in July, ranked eighth among all NL position players with a 6.3 fWAR (Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement Model) and helped the Braves tally 100 wins for the first time since 2003.
“I love that guy, just what he brings with his consistency,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I've never seen a player that wants to win more than him. And like I say, hopefully I get to reconvene with him. We'll see.”
Nothing will seem like a slam dunk in free agency after this past winter, when Freeman ended up leaving the Braves to sign with the Dodgers. Freeman fired agent Casey Close, who still represents Swanson.
But lingering effects shouldn’t play a part, as Freeman has talked to Swanson about the importance of taking more control of the negotiations than he did.
“The longer I’ve been here, the longer I’ve seen and noticed how much of an impact that he has on every single guy in this clubhouse,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “Everybody loves him, and everybody wants him back here so we can continue this run of good baseball here in Atlanta.”
Asked if he had a message for all his teammates, Swanson took a deep breath and said, “That I love them. It’s pretty simple.”
The feeling was mutual in a clubhouse that was facing the end of a season while hoping this wasn’t the end of Swanson with the Braves.
“I hope more than anything that he's back with us next year,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “What he's meant to this organization. He wants to win more than anybody, and that's somebody that I want on our team. So hopefully it works out.”