Dansby Swanson is the last unsigned position player from MLBTR’s top ten free agents. He’ll be the final of the four top-tier shortstops to come off the board, and his destination will surely be influenced by how the market has already played out.
The Phillies and Giants entered the offseason widely regarded as potential landing spots for the top shortstops, particularly if San Francisco were to wind up missing on Aaron Judge. Few would’ve foreseen the Padres jumping into that mix for Xander Bogaerts, with San Diego taking one of the “big four” off the board and perhaps opening another landing spot for Swanson.
Let’s take a look at the most plausible remaining landing spots.
The Cubs met with all four top shortstops at the outset of the offseason, but there’s no indication they’ve wanted to pay the enormous asking prices on any of the other three. Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago wrote last night that discussions with Carlos Correa were limited to general outlines of possible financial parameters, with no formal offer being put on the table. Swanson figures to land the lowest deal of the group, perhaps making him a more palatable target for Chicago. Even if Swanson won’t push or exceed $300MM as Correa, Trea Turner and Bogaerts had, he’s likely to surpass $150MM. This would require the largest investment the Cubs have made since signing Jason Heyward seven years ago.
Is Chicago ownership willing to go to that level? They should have the payroll space to do so, as they’re around $157MM in projected 2023 commitments. That’s above where they’ve sat the last two seasons but nowhere near the $200MM+ franchise-record heights from a few years ago. The Cubs are coming off a second consecutive well below-average season, but they’ve continued to maintain they’re not in a rebuild. It’s hard to imagine acquisitions of Jameson Taillon and Cody Bellinger alone getting a 74-win team back to postseason contention, particularly since they also lost Willson Contreras to free agency. Even adding Swanson to the mix likely leaves them behind the Cardinals and Brewers, but he’s only entering his age-29 season and should still be productive in 2024 and beyond — when the Cubs have a more realistic path to competing. The presence of Nico Hoerner means the Cubs don’t need a shortstop. Second base looks as if it’ll be manned by Nick Madrigal or Christopher Morel, though, and adding Swanson and kicking Hoerner to the other side of the bag would solidify the middle infield.
The Twins missed on Correa, whose stay in Minneapolis lasted only one year. Their reported ten-year, $285MM bid came up well shy of the 13-year, $350MM contract he eventually received from the Giants. Minnesota finished 78-84 even with Correa, and while better health from their pitching staff should help in 2023, they’re behind the Guardians and White Sox in the AL Central as presently constructed. Pivoting to Swanson is a natural fallback, and Minnesota had already been in touch with his representatives even before officially losing out on Correa.
Minnesota has ample payroll room, as illustrated by their ultimately unsuccessful proposal to Correa. They’re not likely to present Swanson with anywhere near the same offer, but ownership and the front office could allocate much of their remaining space to plugging the shortstop vacancy. The Twins acquired Kyle Farmer from the Reds last month. He’s probably better suited for a utility role on a contender but presently projects as the starting shortstop. Former first overall pick Royce Lewis could factor in midseason. He won’t be ready for Opening Day after tearing the ACL in his right knee for the second time last June. It’s anyone’s guess how much of his athleticism and explosiveness he’ll retain after a second straight massive injury. Even if Lewis comes back strong yet again, he could bounce around the diamond in a multi-positional role if Minnesota were to add Swanson.
The Braves have publicly maintained they’d like to keep Swanson, who has been their everyday shortstop for the past six seasons. There’s certainly a fit on the roster. Atlanta looks as if they’d roll with Orlando Arcia and eventually top prospect Vaughn Grissom if Swanson walks. The Braves have had success trusting young players like Grissom in recent years, but he’s not without risk. Prospect evaluators have raised concerns about his defense, and he’s played all of 63 games above High-A. In a division with the Mets and Phillies, the Braves are facing sharp competition to put their best foot forward.
As has been the issue for months, the question about Atlanta is financial. They’re already at franchise-record heights for their player payroll, and their early offseason work has focused on the trade market. The Braves brought in Sean Murphy and Joe Jiménez, leveraging young talent but not taking on any notable salaries. Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported last week the Braves and Swanson had had minimal contact since the offseason began, writing their most recent offer would’ve come with an annual salary in the $16-17MM range over six or seven years. That looks extremely light, particularly given the strength of the rest of the shortstop market. The Braves could circle back, and Jon Heyman of the New York Post tweeted yesterday that Swanson — a Georgia native — would still like to return to Atlanta. At least as of last week, there was a huge gap to bridge in negotiations, though.
Viable But Longer Shots
The Dodgers have been loosely tied to Swanson this offseason after seemingly not showing significant interest in the other top shortstops. It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for L.A., perhaps in part due to a hope of resetting their luxury tax status by dipping below next year’s $233MM base threshold. That’s not clearly a mandate, but team officials have signaled a desire to integrate some of their highly-touted position player prospects into the mix. The Dodgers presently project for a $201MM competitive balance tax number, so they could squeeze Swanson in while staying below the line as things stand. As MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald wrote this week, however, they won’t have official clarity on their tax number until the Trevor Bauer suspension is litigated. Gavin Lux is on hand as a potential shortstop option, with Chris Taylor possibly sliding to second base in that scenario.
Like the Dodgers and Twins, the Red Sox lost their star shortstop in free agency. They’re now seeking up-the-middle help and a right-handed bat to balance the lineup. Swanson would knock off those goals in one swoop, and Boston has nearly $40MM in payroll room before hitting the base tax threshold. Like the Dodgers, they’ve been loosely tied to Swanson this offseason. It’d still come as a surprise if they pivot towards a full-fledged pursuit of Swanson after watching Bogaerts depart. They reportedly put forth a six-year, $162MM offer to their incumbent star shortstop. While they may have been willing to go a bit above that, they never seemed interested in matching the $280MM figure laid out by San Diego. That’s understandable, although Swanson’s contract could well beat what Boston had offered Bogaerts. Would the Red Sox make a stronger offer to Swanson than they had to a homegrown star whom they’d repeatedly called their top offseason priority?
- Angels: The Halos have an uncertain middle infield mix and could look outside the organization to pair with David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo and perhaps Gio Urshela in that group. They’ve been fairly active early, taking on around $40MM in 2023 salary to add Urhsela, Hunter Renfroe, Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez. None of it has come with a longer commitment than the three years they guaranteed Anderson, though. Does owner Arte Moreno want to add a six-plus year deal to the books when he’s hoping to sell the franchise by Opening Day?
- Cardinals: The Cardinals were tied to Swanson earlier in the offseason. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested that was likelier to happen only if the Cards landed the catcher they considered a top priority via trade. Instead, they signed the top free agent available, Contreras, for $87.5MM over five seasons. A franchise-record contract for Swanson on top of that feels uncharacteristic for an organization that usually does its hefty lifting via trade.
- Diamondbacks: The D-Backs could use a shortstop and were loosely linked to Bogaerts earlier in the offseason. They’ve occasionally come out of nowhere to make a major free agent investment (see: Zack Greinke), but they haven’t topped $100MM in Opening Day payroll in either of the last two years. Bringing back Swanson, whom the previous front office initially drafted with the first overall pick in 2015, would make a lot of sense from a roster perspective, but the money probably isn’t lining up.
- Giants: San Francisco could probably accommodate another notable signing, as they’re presently projected around $27MM below the base luxury tax threshold. They’d likely be able to fit Swanson in while avoiding tax payments, but it feels unlikely after they nabbed Correa. Brandon Crawford and Wilmer Flores give them other options at second and third base. First base, center field and the bullpen all look like greater areas of need.
- Mariners: At the start of the offseason, the Mariners expressed some willingness to pursue a shortstop with an eye towards kicking him over to second base in deference to J.P. Crawford. They subsequently traded for Kolten Wong instead, which looks as if it’ll rule them out.
- Mets: The Mets warrant cursory mention on every top free agent at this point given owner Steve Cohen’s aggressiveness. They reportedly at least considered a run at Correa with an eye towards moving him to third base. Swanson isn’t that caliber of hitter, though, and kicking him over to third while displacing Eduardo Escobar, Luis Guillorme and top prospect Brett Baty seems like a stretch.
- Orioles: The Orioles were reportedly poking around the shortstop market at the start of the offseason. They’ve not actually shown any signs they want to make a major investment this winter, though. With a number of top infield prospects at the MLB level or on the horizon (i.e. Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz), a Swanson pursuit doesn’t seem to in the cards.
- Padres: San Diego is in Mets territory of warranting a mention on every free agent given their boldness, but the infield is already overloaded after the Bogaerts deal.
- Yankees: For a second straight offseason, the Yankees haven’t seemed much interested in exploring the top of a loaded shortstop class. They’ve maintained faith in prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe to eventually seize that mantle. If they’re going to make another big investment after re-signing Judge, it seems Carlos Rodón is the target.
Note: all salary projections courtesy of Roster Resource
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