With the 2022 season behind us and the Hot Stove ready to burn, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players available in free agency.
Name: Dansby Swanson
Former team: Atlanta Braves
Age (as of Opening Day 2023): 29
2022 stats: .277/.329/.447, 25 HR, 96 RBI, 99 R, 18 SB
The No. 1 overall selection by the D-backs in the 2015 MLB Draft, Swanson had been a bit of an underachiever until '20, when he enjoyed a breakout season with the Braves.
Swanson hit 10 homers with 35 RBIs and an .809 OPS while playing every game in the pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign. He then followed that up with a career-high 27 homers and 88 RBIs in 160 games in 2021. He smacked a pair of home runs in the World Series that year, helping lift Atlanta to its first championship since 1995.
The 28-year-old proved that his emergence was no fluke in 2022, belting 25 home runs with 96 RBIs and a .776 OPS while playing all 162 games and earning his first All-Star appearance.
Swanson’s past three seasons have thrust him into the upper echelon of this year’s free-agent class, one which includes three other star shortstops: Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts.
Many expect Swanson, a Georgia native, to remain with the Braves. But there will be no shortage of interest in him this offseason.
With Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley all locked up on multi-year deals, Swanson is the only missing piece to keeping Atlanta’s infield together into the second half of the decade. Swanson clearly likes hitting at Truist Park -- he slashed .304/.362/.492 at home compared to .251/.298/.405 on the road this past season -- and the Braves’ core should keep the club in contention on an annual basis. Will Atlanta use some of the money it saved on its team-friendly deals to bring Swanson back?
Turner is also a free agent, though he’s expected to command a far bigger contract than Swanson. If the Dodgers take a run at Aaron Judge or any of the top free-agent starting pitchers, Swanson could be a lower-cost alternative to Turner, albeit hardly an inexpensive one.
The Phillies are likely to pursue one of the big four shortstops this winter, though Turner and Bogaerts are seemingly higher on their wish list. If they miss out on both of those options, the Phils could turn to Swanson, who produced well against Philadelphia (.815 OPS) in 19 games this past season.
It’s only natural to assume that any team facing the loss of its own shortstop will be in the market for a replacement, and if Bogaerts departs Boston, the Red Sox could see Swanson as a younger alternative. Boston’s No. 1 prospect (and No. 7 overall in baseball, per MLB Pipeline) is shortstop Marcelo Mayer, who turns 20 this December. He’s not projected to reach the Majors until at least 2024, so the Red Sox could look for a short-term stopgap if they believe that timeline.
Miami received below-average production from its shortstops in 2022, with Miguel Rojas (.605 OPS) getting the vast majority of the playing time. Rojas has one year and $5 million left on his contract, but Swanson would represent a sizable upgrade as the Marlins look to compete in a deep National League East.
The Giants will be connected to virtually every notable free agent this offseason, as San Francisco is expected to spend aggressively. Brandon Crawford has one year remaining on his deal, so bringing in a new shortstop on a long-term deal would not be surprising.
“Dansby is an occasional All-Star-caliber player who is arguably the best defender in this deep free-agent shortstop class. He was fortunate to have a career year offensively and put up above-average power numbers for a second consecutive campaign in his platform year. He uses the whole field, and while he benefited from some luck this year, the plus speed and improved approach give reasons to believe that it could be close to sustained. He has plus range, hands, feet and arm strength. Teams will value the defender appropriately, and it is a skill that should age well. However, it will also be buyer beware in less offensive home environments. Swanson is a winner with well-above-average makeup that will be a boon for whatever team is able to land him in free agency.”
Swanson will represent an upgrade to almost any lineup, but the team that signs him must be prepared to watch him swing and miss on a frequent basis. Swanson’s strikeout percentage was in the bottom 20 percent in 2022, while his whiff percentage was in the bottom 15 percent of MLB. Swanson’s strikeout rate has been in the bottom 40 percent of the Majors every year of his career, always coming in worse than league average.
For comp's sake
Swanson’s three-year output heading into free agency is similar to Marcus Semien, who landed a seven-year, $175 million deal from the Rangers last winter. Semien had 85 homers and 217 RBIs in 377 games from 2019-21; Swanson has 62 homers and 219 RBIs in 382 games over the past three seasons.
Swanson is heading into his age-29 season, while Semien was entering his age-31 campaign, giving Swanson a strong case for a deal of at least seven years.