December 21: The Cubs have officially announced the signing. Robert Murray of FanSided provides a detailed breakdown of Swanson’s salaries. He will get a $7MM signing bonus and a $13MM salary in 2023, followed by $25MM in 2024. He will then get a bump to $27MM for three straight years, followed by $26MM in 2028 and $25MM in 2029.
December 17: The Cubs have landed one of the offseason’s biggest free agents, as the team has agreed to a deal with shortstop Dansby Swanson. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan (via Twitter) was first to report that the two sides were “very close” to finalizing a deal, and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel tweeted later that the agreement had been reached. The contract is a seven-year, $177MM deal that includes a full no-trade clause, according to Russell Dorsey of Bally Sports (Twitter link). Swanson is represented by Excel Sports Management.
It is the second-biggest free agent deal in Cubs history, second only to Jason Heyward’s eight-year, $184MM pact from the 2015-16 offseason. After the Cubs had spent the last couple of seasons cutting payroll and largely moving into rebuild mode, it is safe to say that the franchise is firmly planning to compete again, given the signings of Swanson, Jameson Taillon, and Cody Bellinger this offseason, as well as the Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman deals last winter.
Rumors have swirled since the summer that the Cubs were planning to sign one of the “big four” shortstops of the 2022-23 offseason — Swanson, Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, or Xander Bogaerts. Some reports even suggested that Chicago could sign two of the shortstops, with an eye towards moving one player to another position (a la the Rangers inking both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last winter). Initial reports indicated that Correa and Bogaerts were the Cubs’ top options of the group, but during the Winter Meetings, Swanson began to emerge as “perhaps their most realistic target at shortstop,” in the words of The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
As it turned out, all of the big four shortstops ended up switching teams, with Swanson the last one to land his next contract. Turner signed with the Phillies, Bogaerts with the Padres, Correa with the Giants, and now Swanson will head to Wrigleyville to join the third different organization of his pro career. Drafted first overall by the Diamondbacks in 2015, Swanson’s Arizona was limited to 22 A-ball games, as he was dealt to the Braves that offseason as part of a blockbuster five-player swap.
The trade became infamous for Arizona fans, as Shelby Miller (the primary piece headed to the D’Backs) immediately struggled with his new team, while Georgia-born Swanson blossomed with his hometown Braves. Success wasn’t immediate for Swanson, who hit only .243/.314/.369 over his first 1229 Major League plate appearances from 2016-18. However, he gradually became more productive at the plate, culminating in a 2022 season that saw him hit .277/.329/.447 with 25 homers over 696 PA, translating to a 116 wRC+.
Swanson also hit 27 homers in 2021, bringing some solid power from the shortstop position. It could be that Swanson might still be entering his prime years as a hitter as he enters his age-29 season, making him an even more intriguing addition as an all-around player. Swanson is also an excellent baserunner and has a very strong defensive resume that includes a Gold Glove last season. The Outs Above Average metric grades Swanson with a +38 total over the last five seasons, and while his Defensive Runs Saved (+18) and UZR/150 (+0.4) numbers are a little more inconsistent, Swanson is certainly an above-average fielder at a key defensive position.
The Cubs already had a good defensive shortstop in Nico Hoerner, of course, and yet Hoerner’s versatility allowed Chicago to explore multiple options around the diamond. With Swanson now taking over at shortstop and Bellinger also signed as primarily the everyday center fielder, it looks like Hoerner will be spending most of his time at second base. Between Hoerner and Swanson, the Cubs now have one of the very best defensive middle infields in baseball, which will be particularly important in 2023 given the new rules limiting defensive shifts.
Between Swanson, Bellinger, Taillon, and Brad Boxberger, Chicago has spent a little over $265MM on guaranteed free agent deals this offseason. Even with a projected $181.1MM in payroll for 2023 and a luxury tax number (which is based on average annual values) of a little over $203.1MM, it seems possible that the Cubs and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer might not be done yet.
The Cubs’ Opening Day payroll in 2019 cracked the $203MM mark, so Hoyer might have at least another $22MM to spend if that past record total does represent ownership’s upper limit. Since the Cubs crossed the luxury tax threshold in 2016, 2019, and 2020, it could be that ownership might even green-light more spending at least up to the current $233MM tax line. “Intelligent spending” has been one of Hoyer’s chief descriptions of the Cubs’ spending strategies over the last two winters, and club chairman Tom Ricketts said at the start of the offseason that the front office would have “the necessary resources available to substantially supplement our current roster.”
Swanson’s signing marks the first time in two offseasons that the Cubs signed a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer. This means Chicago will have to give up $500K in international spending money, and lose its second-highest pick in the 2023 draft. While losing a draft pick (currently 49th overall) is no small matter, the Cubs will also get a bonus pick back since Willson Contreras rejected his QO and signed with the Cardinals. This will net Chicago a compensatory pick that will fall between Competitive Balance Round B and the start of the third round, so roughly 70th overall.
Atlanta’s compensatory pick will also fall right alongside Chicago’s pick in the 70th-overall range. That draft selection will represent the last piece of Swanson’s tenure with the Braves, an overall very successful run highlighted by the team’s 2021 World Series championship. Since the Braves captured that title, the club has said goodbye to both Swanson and Freddie Freeman in free agency — a scenario that would’ve been unlikely 13 months ago, given how both seemed like cornerstone pieces.
President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has spent much of that time building a new foundation, however. The Braves have been very aggressive in locking up several young players to contract extensions, and also swung separate trades with the Athletics to bring in two more star players in Matt Olson (essentially Freeman’s replacement at first base) and new catcher Sean Murphy. This left less focus on Swanson, as Atlanta reportedly made him an offer in the neighborhood of six years and $100MM before the offseason began, and ever since, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman wrote that the two sides “haven’t had any legit negotiations.”
The Braves reportedly had reservations about committing the kind of high average-annual value it would’ve taken to land Swanson, as the $25.286 AAV on his Cubs deal would’ve been easily the highest on Atlanta’s payroll (Austin Riley’s $21.2MM is the current leader). While time will tell if the Braves made the right decision in moving on from Swanson, it’s hard to accuse the club of being tight-fisted, given how they’re already on pace for a team-record $196.5MM payroll and are close to the luxury tax threshold for the first time.
Atlanta might also feel like it has another young star ready to take the reins at shortstop, as Vaughn Grissom (who played his first 41 MLB games in 2022) now looks like the top choice at the position. Orlando Arcia is on hand as a veteran backup and you can never rule Anthopoulos out from another headline-grabbing move for another shortstop, but it appears as though the Braves are hoping Grissom can become the latest homegrown prospect to make an immediate impact at the big league level. Grissom already hit .291/.353/.440 in his first 156 career plate appearances.
Looking at both the shortstop market and the greater free agent market, Swanson is the latest player to cash in during what has been something of a spending free-for-all this winter. MLBTR projected Swanson for a seven-year, $154MM deal, so that prediction at least came closer to expectations than Bogaerts’ 11-year/$280MM deal with San Diego, Correa’s 13-year/$350MM pact with San Francisco, or even the 11 years and $300MM Turner got from the Phillies. While it was generally expected that Swanson would receive the smallest contract (relatively speaking) of the “big four” shortstops, the average annual values of the four players ended up all falling within a $2MM range, as the longer-term deals signed by Bogaerts, Correa, and Turner helped lessen the AAV and subsequent luxury tax hit.
Elvis Andrus and Jose Iglesias won’t command anywhere near those types of numbers, but the two veteran infielders are now the best shortstop options remaining on the open market. For other teams (like the Red Sox, Twins, Dodgers, and perhaps the Diamondbacks and Angels) that were looking for shortstop help and were at least on the periphery of the markets of the “big four,” Andrus or Iglesias might get some looks, or any needy teams might explore the trade market.
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