The best remaining free agent shortstop has a deal. Dansby Swanson and the Chicago Cubs have agreed on a seven-year, $177 million deal, reports Russell Dorsey of Bally Sports. The team has not yet confirmed the signing. The other top free agent shortstops -- Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Trea Turner -- all signed earlier this offseason. The Cubs were long rumored to be on at least one of them and the smoke was the heaviest around Swanson from the beginning of the offseason.
Swanson, 29 in February, was selected No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, though they traded him to this hometown Atlanta Braves six months later in the ill-fated Shelby Miller deal. In parts of seven seasons with Atlanta, Swanson authored a .255/.321/.417 line and averaged 20 home runs and 2.8 WAR per 162 games. He was part of their 2021 World Series-winning club.
The 2022 season was Swanson's best. He slashed .277/.329/.447 with 25 home runs, and a big jump in defensive stats allowed him to post a career best 5.7 WAR. Swanson rated as an above-average defender previously, then this past season the numbers jumped to among the best in the league. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Swanson the No. 9 free agent this offseason. Here's his write-up:
Swanson has elevated his game during the Pandemic Era. In addition to launching 62 home runs since 2020, the third-most among everyday shortstops, he's hit for a roughly league-average or better OPS in each of the last three seasons. If there is an area of concern for him offensively, it's his swing-and-miss tendency. Swanson checked in 120th out of the 130 batters who qualified for a batting title in contact rate and the only shortstops to whiff more frequently last season were Javier Báez and Jorge Mateo, neither of whom had a particularly good offensive showing. To Swanson's credit, he has a better feel for the strike zone than either of them. He also continues to grade well defensively, particularly on balls that require him to move in or to his right. The risk here is that Swanson's strikeout rate will balloon as he ages and loses bat speed, but his power and defense should give him a solid base to work from.
With the addition of Swanson, incumbent shortstop Nico Hoerner likely moves to second base, where he 68 games of MLB experience. He scored very well defensively at shortstop last season, so he'll likely be a well above-average second baseman, giving the Cubs and outstanding double-play combo. With the shift being limited next season, this should be a strong plus for the Cubs.
As for the Braves, youngster Vaughn Grissom will probably take over at shortstop barring any other moves. He appeared in 41 games as a rookie last season, slashing .291/.353/.440 (121 OPS+) with six doubles, five homers, 18 RBI, 24 runs, five stolen bases and 0.8 WAR. He's very talented, but he's only appeared in 63 games above A-ball, so it's possible there will be growing pains. Still, the Braves' player development infrastructure provides plenty of reasons for optimism. If Grissom struggles, Orlando Arcia is another in-house option to play short.
The big question with Swanson is if his offensive gains can hold. He was sub-par-to-average offensively in 2017-19 and 2021. Offense is where the Cubs need help, too, as they were 11th in the NL in runs and 10th in OPS last season. So far this offseason, they picked up a lottery ticket in Cody Bellinger, but lost Willson Contreras in free agency. It's possible Seiya Suzuki makes gains in his second full MLB season, but otherwise, as things stand, the Cubs would be counting on Bellinger and Swanson to improve the group that lost Contreras' production.
In all likelihood, the Cubs aren't done adding, of course. There's no reason to sign players like Bellinger, Swanson and Jameson Taillon unless the attempt is making a 74-win team into a contender.
For now, though, consider it a plus for the Cubs -- especially on defense -- to grab Swanson.